Megan Armitage had a stirring performance in the women's Scheldeprijs in Belgium on Wednesday, the Irish IBCT rider attacking early on with two other riders and remaining out front for the majority of the race.
Together with the Briton Abi Smith (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) and the Canadian Simone Boilard (St Michel-Auber93), the trio built a lead of two minutes and were only reeled in inside the final eight kilometres.
The silver medallist at last year's Irish road-race championships spent several months in Australia and is clearing riding very strongly. The race was won by Dutch woman Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM Women) in a reduced bunch sprint. Caught behind a crash with approximately five kilometres to go, Armitage rolled in as part of a group 42 seconds back.
Meanwhile, Ryan Mullen and Sam Bennett showed signs of improving form in the men's event, with both Irish riders making it into the race's key breakaway. They were part of an initial 16-man group which went clear in strong winds after just 28 kilometres of racing, and which fended off the efforts of those behind to get back on terms.
Mullen and Bennett were joined in the move by Bora-hansgrohe team-mates Jordi Meeus and Danny van Poppel, and these four would try to dictate the action in the final hour of racing.
Bennett is still gradually building racing sharpness after missing several months last season due to a knee injury and was lacking some zip towards the tail end of the race. He was under pressure at some points but being part of the day’s break showed that his form is progressing in advance of a key target, the upcoming Tour of Turkey. His team is hoping that he will be able to land his first win of the year there.
Mullen was one of the strongest riders inside the final 20 kilometres of racing and unleashed several attacks in order to help set up the other two team-mates. He eventually burned up his remaining energy doing so and rolled in one minute and seven seconds behind the solo winner Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux). The Norwegian had attacked from the group shortly after Bennett was forced to drop back with a slow rear wheel puncture with about eight kilometres remaining.
Bennett got a spare bike and finished one minute and 25 seconds back. The race was a good form-sharpener for the Carrick-on-Suir rider, who will line out on stage one of the Tour of Turkey on Sunday.
Scheldeprijs, Belgium (1.Pro): 1 Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) 198.7 kilometres in 4:06.02, 2 D van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe) @ 24 secs, 3 S Welsford (Team DSM), 4 C van Uden (Development Team DSM) @ 26 secs, 5 E Theuns (Trek-Segafredo)
Irish: 10 R Mullen (Bora-Hansgrohe) 1.07, 13 S Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) 1.25
DNF: M Mc Laughlin (EvoPro Racing), D Feeley (EvoPro Racing), C Mc Dunphy (EvoPro Racing), S Clancy (Novo Nordisk),
Scheldeprijs Vroomen (1.1): 1 Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM Women) 138.1 kilometres in 3:21.56, 2 C Consonni (Valcar-Travel & Service), 3 R Barbieri (Liv Racing Xstra), 4 G Baker (BikeExchange-Jayco Women), 5 B Guarischi (Movistar Team Women)
Irish: 101 M Armitage (IBCT) @ 42 secs