An Post Rás: James Gullen takes Conor Pass stage

Irish national team rider Eddie Dunbar was a solid eighth, seven seconds back

The chasing bunch climb the Conor Pass on stage 3 of the An Post Rás. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The chasing bunch climb the Conor Pass on stage 3 of the An Post Rás. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

As expected, the shakeup. Stage three of the An Post Rás took the riders to Dingle and, with the category one Conor Pass looming up inside the final 15 kilometres, the mountain shattered the peloton and upended the general classification.

British rider James Gullen (Pedal Heaven) was one of two big beneficiaries, attacking repeatedly on the climb, then coming back on the descent after being wrongfooted by a four man break over the summit. He launched past this group with two kilometres left and held on to the line.

Gullen beat Aaron Gate (An Post Chain Reaction), Nikodemus Holler (Germany Stradalli Bike Aid) and Clemens Fankhauser (Austria Tirol Cycling Team) by two seconds, while Irish national team rider Eddie Dunbar was a solid eighth, seven seconds back.

The second big beneficiary on the stage was Fankhauser, the 2014 race winner. His fourth place saw him leap twelve places in the general classification and move into the yellow jersey of race leader. He was in obvious pain trying to don that garment on the podium, and later confirmed that he had been doubtful about being able to start the stage.

“I had a big crash yesterday and thought the race was over,” he said. “I hurt my shoulder and when the pain didn’t improve, I went to the local hospital and spent all evening there waiting for a doctor. They said there was nothing broken.

“It hurts quite a lot. I didn’t think that I could finish the stage but after one hour I felt better. At least the legs are good.”

Austrians are clearly a hardy bunch: twelve months ago, his compatriot Lukas Postlberger braved it through his own severe shoulder injury to win overall.

Fankhauser had wanted to chase the stage win but said that Gullen’s move caught himself and breakaway companions Nikodemus Holler (Germany Stradalli Bike Aid), Lucas Hamiliton and Jai Hindley (both Australia National Team) by surprise.

“We had a gap over the top of the climb but the downhill was quite straight. We couldn’t speed up enough, so some guys came back.

“The guy who took the stage attacked from the back with like, ten kilometres faster than we were, so we couldn’t catch him any more. He did a very good job and he deserved the victory.”

Gullen jumps up 27 places and is now sixth overall. He is fine with still being eight seconds off Fankhauser.

“It’s quite nice to not have taken yellow in a way because in a small team, it’s hard to control the race,” he said. “Now we can play it by ear and it takes the pressure off a bit. We can just see how it goes each day and respond with the right moves.”

Fankhauser now leads Australian national team rider Jai Hindley by three seconds and Gate by five. Dunbar is also five seconds back, sitting fourth overall, and has clearly bounced back well from his own shoulder problem. He fractured his collarbone five weeks ago and the An Post Rás is his first race back.

He was one of 22 riders who got clear in the first hour of racing, a move created by a solo attack by Gullen. Fankhauser and overnight race leader Taco van der Hoorn missed out but while that caused stress for them, things worked out as the break was hauled back prior to the Conor Pass.

However while Fankhauser pushed forward, van der Hoorn went backwards. He finished 16th on the stage and slips to fifth.

In addition to Dunbar, three other Irish riders are in the top 20. Mark Downey (Ireland national team), Damien Shaw and Conor Dunne (both Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) are 15th, 16th and 18th overall. Like Dunbar they will hope to move further up on Wednesday’s fourth stage, a mountainous 162.8 kilometre race to Sneem.

Ditto for Ian Richardson (Dublin UCD Fitz Cycles), winner of the best county rider in 2015 and now back in that blue jersey again. He is 25 seconds ahead of former pro footballer Bryan McCrystal (Louth Asea Wheelworx), and hoping to hold on to that classification lead for the rest of the race.

He finished in the top ten last year and had been aiming for that again. However being in that early 22 man move cost him when it came to the Conor Pass.

“It was kind of a gamble going into that breakaway hoping that such a big group would go to the finish like it normally should. Unfortunately it didn’t,” he said. “So my legs weren’t fully there on the climb. I managed just to hold out on the climb to get the county rider jersey.

“It is unfortunate because myself and my trainer worked hard this year to get me in really good form for this Rás with all the hills. It is a kind of a mixed day. I am a little bit disappointed that I got dropped from that front group on the climb, but I am happy to be back in this jersey. I should hold it for the rest of the race now.”

McCrystal and the other challengers will believe things aren’t so cut and dried and, like many other riders, will look for opportunities to attack in the days ahead. Five stages remain and the final outcome in each category is still to be determined.

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