Reda defies 'nasty' winds to take Ras lead
Francesco Reda of Team Idea 2010 ASD became the first race leader of the An Post Ras when he outsprinted breakaway companion Lukas Postlberger to take victory on yesterday's opening stage in Carlow.
This duo had been out front for much of yesterday's 155km stage, going clear in a 15-man move on the first of the day's three third-category climbs at Sherlockstown around 25km into proceedings.
Former track world champion Martyn Irvine (Madison Genesis), national road race champion Ryan Mullen of An Post Chain Reaction and Ian Richardson of Dublin UCD were the only Irish among the lead group.
Mullen took the first king of the mountains points in Sherlockstown, while Irvine won the first intermediate sprint into Naas shortly after, taking the three-second time bonus on offer and making him virtual race leader on the road.
By Dunlavin, after 48km, the lead group's advantage had grown to over two and a half minutes and although two chase groups fled the peloton in an effort to bridge the gap, they never made contact with the leaders.
Postlberger, of the Austrian Tirol team, and Reda attacked the break with 30km to go and despite a concerted effort from behind to reel them in, the duo managed to storm into Carlow with over a minute's advantage, with the Italian easily outsprinting his fellow escapee to win the stage.
Behind the leading pair, Rob Partridge of the British pro team NFTO managed to outsprint Irvine and the remnants of the early break for third place, with Mullen ninth and Richardson taking 11th on the stage and the jersey for best county rider.
"I was blessed to get into such a good group without any other county riders," said a delighted Richardson after donning the blue jersey.
"When the route was first put out there, people thought it was going to be an easy Ras but the wind conditions were always going to be tough.
"My plan today was to ride in the top 15 all day. The group just got away in a pretty nasty crosswind section and a lot of guys in that break today were time trial specialists who love riding in echelons and excel in those conditions.
"From then on in it was about conserving energy and playing the county rider card, letting the professionals do most of the work.
"I'm absolutely delighted. I'm just going to enjoy my time in this jersey and treat the rest of the stages as one-day races and try and get up again."
A former WorldTour professional and Grand Tour rider, 32-year-old stage winner Reda was forced to sit out last year's racing season after receiving a ban for failing to provide a urine test for the UCI back in February 2013.
The Italian now leads the Ras by three seconds from Postlberger, with Irvine best of the Irish in third, a minute and one second back.
With no first-category climbs and a generally flatter route than previous years, this year's Ras profile looked as if it would give the Irish amateur county riders a fighting chance against the professionals that have dominated proceedings recently.
But with the largest group of riders yesterday finishing almost 13 minutes down and the rest of the race splattered across the roads behind them, with some riders losing more than an hour in the 155km stage, this Ras may already be over for many before it began.
Meanwhile, another Italian, Fabio Aru, crept closer to Alberto Contador's pink jersey after stage nine at the Giro d'Italia yesterday.
The stage was won by Aru's Astana team-mate Paolo Tiralongo, who soloed clear of a large breakaway group on the final climb.
While Contador and third overall, Team Sky's Richie Porte, held onto Aru on the final climb, the duo both lost a second to the young Italian in the sprint to the line.
Aru is now just three seconds behind Contador as the Giro heads into its first rest day today.