Monday 23 September 2019

McKenna surprises himself with win

Sean McKenna
Sean McKenna
A product of the UCD cycling team, McKenna’s victory was somewhat unexpected yesterday as the 24-year-old is not an out-and out sprinter. Stock photo

Gerard Cromwell

Dubliner Sean McKenna took the biggest win of his career when he sprinted to a popular victory on stage six of Rás Tailteann in Carlow.

After five days of big bunch-sprint finishes on this Rás, McKenna caught the fast men napping in the final 1.5km yesterday and despite a huge chase, managed to hold on for victory by a bike length from Switzerland's Claudio Imhof and Dutch points competition leader Luuc Bugter.

"It was all down to Damien Shaw," said a stunned McKenna.

"He was leading out our Italian rider, Seid (Lizde), for the finish. I saw them lining up, so I went up to give them a hand. There was a roundabout with 1.5km to go and I took it very fast in front of Damien and he just sat up and let the gap open.

"There were maybe 10 lads in front of me and he just let us go. I've been in that position so many times before and finished about fifth, so I just sat at the back and let them panic a bit. I hardly pedalled until the last 500m and then when they started jumping I just followed the wheels and it opened up in front of me."

A product of the UCD cycling team, McKenna's victory was somewhat unexpected yesterday as the 24-year-old is not an out-and-out sprinter.

He has also been suffering with intermittent knee pain all week and almost abandoned during yesterday's stage.

"Today it was very sore on the climbs and I went back to the team car and said, 'This is nearly climbing-off territory. I'm in pain here.' It happened yesterday as well and then it eased off, so they just said to stick at it and see what happens.

"I followed the right wheels and ended up in the top five with 200m to go. That's when you realise you don't get these opportunities too often and you just put the head down. It just came out of nowhere."

From a strong cycling family, his father Mick and his uncle Ciaran also rode the race numerous times.

The latter is now president of Cycling Ireland while his cousin Conor rides for the Dublin UCD team. All three were in jubilant mood at the finish in Carlow.

"My Dad doesn't say much about his racing but I know he was second in a two-up sprint on a stage years ago. I never thought I could achieve something like that, and now I have.

"It's crazy. My grandad told me he's been watching cycling for 60 years and today he heard my name come over the radio as the stage winner.

"With all the big bunch-sprint finishes this week I was giving out yesterday that it hasn't been exciting, but it was exciting today, for me. It's like a fairytale!"

With two days to go and no change in the overall yesterday, McKenna's attention will now turn to trying to move team-mate Shaw up from his third place overall, 11 seconds down on Swiss race leader Cyrrille Thiery, before the finale in Skerries on Sunday.

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