Dunne walks tall in Ras duel for yellow
Conor Dunne, riding for the Iverk Produce Tipperary county team, outsmarted the professionals yesterday to claim only the second An Post Ras stage victory by a domestic county rider in four years.
Dunne outsprinted Michael Northey of the British-based Node4 Giordana team at the end of the opening stage of this year's Ras into Longford.
National U-23 time trial champion Dunne went one better than Tipperary sprinter Sam Bennett did in 2009, however, when he also pulled on the first yellow jersey of race leader at the end of yesterday's stage.
"I'm so, so happy. This has made my week," said a euphoric Dunne as he was mobbed by Tipperary team-mates after the line. "It was a tough stage. I went in a break at the start and wasn't feeling too great and we got caught.
"I wasn't feeling great in the bunch either but later on my legs started feeling good and I followed a few moves with about 20km to go and got clear with Northey, but I didn't think anything was going to come of it."
With only two riders battling against the heaving peloton, it looked unlikely they would stay clear to the line, but having opened a maximum advantage of a minute, some strong pulls by Dunne at the front ensured the duo still had 23 seconds at the finish.
"When I looked around, there were only two of us," said second-placed Northey of his late escape bid. "From there on, it was just us slogging away. I knew Conor was strong. Coming in the road he was doing some big turns.
"I didn't think we'd stay away but we got a minute quite quickly so we kept pressing on. My team manager said it was quite a technical finish so I tried to be first into the corners but he just had the jump over me to the line."
In the end, however, at 6'8" tall, Dunne was head and shoulders above the Kiwi in the sprint to the line.
"I was a bit worried in the sprint, but I just believed in myself," said the new race leader. "I let him lead it out and knew I had the jump. I'm so happy. I've been going well this season, but just didn't get the luck.
"My team were saying that it just needed to come together and I'd get a good win and today I got it. I'm so, so happy."
Dunne now leads the Ras by four seconds from Northey, with Dutchman Roy Efting third at 29 seconds, but Tipperary manager Paul Lonergan has produced domestic stage winners before and is not expecting his team of part-timers to control the race in the coming days.
"It's a long, long way to go and we're up against stiff opposition, so we definitely won't be going to the front all day tomorrow," admitted Lonergan.
"But everyone's week is made with this stage win. It's fabulous for us, for the sponsors and for the club at home in Carrick-On-Suir. The amount of phone calls and texts I've had already is unbelievable. In 1992, the late Bobby Power won the first stage into Carrick-On-Shannon, around the same part of the country. Over the years we've had Sam Bennett winning a stage and Ciaran Power winning two stages for us.
"I was thinking last night, that if that happened again it would be amazing.
"It happened today and now we have a yellow jersey as well, which is fabulous. It's a great achievement to get an Irish rider up there with the calibre of the pros that are here. We'll just try to keep going and get a few more results now. If we can hold the jersey, even better, I doubt it, but we'll see how it goes."