Hello and welcome to the second stage of the tour of Ireland starting
in Westport and finishing the 110km loop in Casthebar. The stage
featured three category climbs and, for the past two years, has
eliminated a lot of riders from contention for the overall GC. I knew
this loop could be hard. We have forced it that way for the last two
seasons but this year I don’t have the horses I had in the past so we
need to race it differently, smarter and less forceful.
There was a strong wind out of the west that gave us a block head wind
for the first 25k then a tailwind for the next 30km returning to a
cross,head wind for the remainder of the race. Usually we go right
after the leader and force their hand early to test the quality of
their team, and since we’ve done that for the last two years
successfully, everyone was expecting it. Not so sorry to disappoint we
let the race happen without us.
I’ve never seen such a slow start to a stage at any race we’ve done. I
don’t know if everyone was scared of the leader or of us but nobody
seemed ready to race. It took about 35km before the pace picked up to
what I would consider a racing pace and the attacks began. As usual, we
covered as moves happened instead of trying to cross to moves. That way
we are in every move with the least energy expended.
After some give and take a three man move got a gap. It contained a
South Africian, an English lad and our Brendan McCormack. They gained
1:30 on the field before the gap stabilized. I knew it wasn’t going to
last the day, on it’s own but it would last through the three KOM
sprints and Brendan can climb so I was content. The first KOM climbs
came and Brendan was third in both. The South African crashed on one
of the hairpin drops from the climb and there was two but they field
was chasing hard.
Over the top of the last KOM, they were still clear by a bit but a big
crash in the field took down a lot of riders including the yellow
jersey but none of us. I didn’t think it was a bad fall but the yellow
was sitting on his arse bleeding from his knee and elbow but nothing
else that I could tell. We flew by trying to catch up to the vanished
field after a two plus minute delay waiting for the team cars to make
it past the crash site on the sheep laden country hilltop. On the
decent the field reassembled for the long headwind run when I hear the
yellow jersey is back up and running but 4:30 behind the field.
At this point I see Colin get in a move on what looked like a slow
motion move. They just let him go with two others. At first the gap was
fifteen seconds and a little chase, then twenty-five and a a little
more of a chase and then they were gone. At that point, much to my
surprise, and everyone else in the field, the yellow jersey rejoined
the field. I know, it seems impossible and, as it turns out, it was, to
close a 4:30 gap in fifteen minutes. It seems there was some motor
pacing and some holding onto the car involved in the magic. The
officials impressed me with a quick and firm penalty for the infraction
for their national team’s number one rider of five minutes. To me, a
fair and just punishment. Yes, the could have tossed him but that
wouldn’t have served the race and none of the team directors wanted
that, not a punishment as much as just not an advantage.
Up front, the race was on. I went to the break to talk to Colin and get
an assessment on the workload. They all seemed to be working evenly and
the gap was increasing and finally stabilizing at just over a minute.
Ten km to go, then five and I knew the winner was going to come from
these three. So, Colin is a fast finisher, probably one of the best in
this race so I had good confidence that he could win. I knew he was
faster than one of them but the English guy with him was six seconds
ahead of him on GC after the time trial. If Colin gapped him, he could
take yellow. I wanted Colin to win but I didn’t want yellow yet. A win
and a few seconds would be ideal. This is a long race and the team with
the lead has a lot of work to do and I didn’t want to have to do that
for the next four days.
Colin easily won the sprint and gapped the rider ahead of him and we
waited for the field and the official time gaps. The race finished next
to a big grocery store so while we waited for podium, I gathered fruit,
bars and drinks to feed the wolves.
We won the stage by four seconds over the new yellow jersey so we are
second in GC, two seconds out of the lead. Colin earned the green
points jersey and Brendan donned the polka dot climbers jersey. This
was a good day for us but it’s early and they need to remain calm. We
are a long way from port and there are a lot of possible storms just
over the horizon undetected by us. We are just grateful to have had a
good day today and marked one more day off the calendar.
Thanks for reading,