NICHOLAS BALDO (Switzerland Atlas Jakroo) saw out the final stage of the 2012 An Post Rás today to keep hold of the yellow jersey and become the winner of the 60th edition of the famous race.
The Frenchman finished in 30th position, level on time with last year’s champion Gediminas Bagdonas (An Post Sean Kelly), who won a scintillating bunch sprint which involved 72 riders.
“I am so happy at this moment. To win the Rás is a special honour as it is a race with a lot of history, so it means a lot to me and I hope to be back again next year to defend my title,” he said.
“It is such a hard race. We had eight very tough days around Ireland and I could not have done it without the help of my team mates. This trophy is for them too.”
Bagdonas’ team-mate and Irish rider Sam Bennett took second place with third going to Marcin Bialoblocki (Britain Node4 Giordana Racing).
Today’s 139 kilometre stage from Cootehill into Skerries provided many of the well-placed general classification riders one final opportunity to go clear and claw back a time deficit on the race leader Baldo. The first 80 kilometres were raced open and fast roads which made it ideal for riders to attack and build up a considerable lead ahead of five category three climbs.
It was Irishman Sean Downey (An Post Sean Kelly) who launched the first breakaway with Christian Jensen (Denmark Blue Water Cycling) and Michael Vingerling (Netherlands Koga Cycling) joining him to go clear by 6 seconds. They were quickly reeled in by the chasing field but Downey was in no mood to stop and broke away again, this time with Christopher Jennings (Britain UK Youth Cycling).
The chasing bunch were in close pursuit and heading into Nobber (38km) the breakaway had a lead of seven seconds, with Lars Vierbergen (Netherlands Koga Cycling), Christopher Stevenson (Britain UK Youth Cycling), Robin Kelly (Carlow Dan Morrissey Speedy), Taylor Gunman (New Zealand National Team) and Sondre Hurum (Norway Oneco-Mesterhus) bridging the gap and quickly establishing a one minute 22 second lead over the peloton.
Some strong and efficient riding by the leaders over the climbs at Slane and Pluckhimin saw them extend the lead to almost two minutes but the peloton kept a close tab on things and going over the hill at Cross of the Cage, Kelly started to feel the pace and he dropped off, eventually being joined by Gunman and Hurum.
The lead had disintegrated to just 57 seconds crossing the Skerries finish line and all that remained was two laps of a 13.8 kilometre circuit around the town, which included the short sharp ascent of Black Hills. On the penultimate lap the leaders were caught and the field was together again. Richard Handley (Britain Rapha Condor Sharp) attacked on the final ascent of Black Hills, but he couldn’t sustain a lead and coming into the final straight with the streets lined with thousands of roaring spectators it was anyone’s to win.
Bagdonas proved to be the strongest in the sprint taking the stage victory and the overall points classification jersey, but it was Baldo who took the honour of claiming the coveted Rás yellow jersey and his name on the trophy. Richard Handley took the U23 rider jersey, with David Clarke winning the King of the Mountains category. Irish amateur rider Adam Armstrong put in a superb performance to finish 14th in the general classification making him the best county rider.