British rider Alex Pritchard takes first yellow jersey of Rás Tailteann

Defending Rás champion Dillon Corkery and Team Ireland team-mate Odhrán Doogan led in the bunch

Just as was the case 12 months ago, the opening stage of the Rás Tailteann was won by a visiting rider from the UK: Richardsons Trek DAS squad, with Alex Pritchard emulating team-mate Conor McGoldrick this time around.

Pritchard outsprinted Irish rider Paul Kennedy (USA: Skyline-Cadence) and another Briton Dom Jackson (UK: Foran CC) to the finish in Kilmallock after the trio held off a fast-closing peloton in the closing kilometres.

The move had gone clear approximately 25km into the mainly flat 147.6km stage from Tullamore and saw those riders build a maximum advantage on the main bunch of over four minutes. While the peloton did eventually mount a hectic chase, it ultimately finished 23 seconds behind Pritchard, the first yellow jersey wearer.

Defending Rás champion Dillon Corkery and Team Ireland team-mate Odhrán Doogan led in the bunch, but with time bonuses taken into account find themselves 36 seconds behind Pritchard heading into Thursday’s stage two.


“Honestly, I’m a little shocked,” said Pritchard, who is making his Rás debut. “I didn’t expect to get in the break, and for it to stick and to stay away. So to walk away with the stage win is unreal.

“To see four minutes on the [time] board was a bit of a shock. When that came down, I thought that was game over, but then we just started riding really, really hard in that last 10 kilometres.”

Kennedy took two of the three bonus sprints along the way but ends up one second off Pritchard’s yellow jersey, with Jackson four seconds back in the overall standings.

Corkery has had a heavy race programme this spring with his St Michel-Mavic-Auber93 team in France and said in recent days he had been feeling fatigued. He rested up in advance of the Rás to try to regain freshness, but is still waiting to click.

“I didn’t feel great, to be honest,” he said at the finish. “Actually not great at all. But yeah, I’m hoping I build into this race similar to what I did last year, and come good on the final days.”

In that light, he can take considerable encouragement from his fourth place.

“We obviously know that tomorrow is quite a big day,” he said, explaining the tactics. “So I was trying to keep pressure off the [Team Ireland] boys. Coming in the road, I didn’t want us to do too much, but we kind of got left riding, because obviously we’re one of the stronger teams in the race.

“I don’t think we expended a whole lot of energy. It’s just a shame that we let those boys get such a big gap. I think if we started riding earlier, maybe we could have brought them back in the finish, because we obviously have some of the faster sprinters here.

“But look, it is what it is. Tomorrow’s another day and plus the Rás is five days racing, not one.”

Stage two is likely to be a bigger challenge for the peloton, being on paper at least the hardest of the race. Beginning in Kanturk, close to Corkery’s hometown of Banteer, and running 183.8km to Sneem, it takes in six categorised climbs.

These include the gruelling category one Ballaghasheen Pass and the difficult category two ascent of Coomakista. A final category three climb on a 16km finishing loop will follow, and could be a springboard to stage victory and the yellow jersey.

Pritchard is uncertain as to how he will fare. “I’m more of a time trialist,” he said, referring to the climbs. “So it’s going to be hard, but we’ll see how we go.”

Rás Tailteann stage one (Tullamore to Kilmallock)

1 A Pritchard (UK: Richardsons Trek DAS) 147.6km in 3:09.25, 2 P Kennedy (USA: Skyline-Cadence) @2 secs, 3 D Jackson (UK: Foran CT) same time, D Corkery (Team Ireland) @23, 5 O Doogan (Team Ireland), 6 K Wang (China: Team Bodywrap), 7 M Cigala (Carlow: Dan Morrissey Primor by Pissei), 8 T Shoreman (UK: Wheelbase-Cabtech-Castelli), 9 J Brown (UK: Ribble Revolution), 10 W Perrett (UK: Spirit TBW Stuart Hall Cycling) all st.

General classification after stage one: 1 A Pritchard 3:09.12, 2 P Kennedy @1 sec, 3 D Jackson @4, 4 D Corkery @36, 5 O Doogan, 6 K Wang, 7 M Cigala, 8 T Shoreman, 9 J Brown, 10 W Perrett all same time.

Points competition: 1 A Pritchard 15, 2 P Kennedy 14, 3 D Jackson 13. Mountains competition: 1 D Jackson (UK: Foran CT) 10, 2 A Pritchard 8, 3 P Kennedy 6. Young rider: 1 O Doogan 3:09.48, 2 P O’Loughlin (Kerry: Killarney CC), 3 D Harvey (Team Ireland) all same time.

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about cycling