After landing third place on a stage of the Giro d'Italia last month, Eddie Dunbar went agonisingly close to taking his first professional victory on Thursday. The Irish Team Ineos rider was prominent on the mountainous first stage of La Route d'Occitanie in France and was the only one able to stay with world champion Alejandro Valverde in the tough uphill sprint at Saint-Geniez-d'Olt-et-d'Aubrac.
However, he was not able to get past the Spaniard before the line, meaning he had to be content with second place. Frenchman Élie Gesbert (Arkéa-Samsic) was two seconds behind in third, with 2017 Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran fourth.
“I’m a bit disappointed. I was coming up with speed in that last 200 metres, but I ran out of road,” he said. “But it was good, I think it is a good sign that I was able to do that after the Giro. I’m really happy with how today went.”
Dunbar can take great encouragement from the opening stage of the race, which runs until Sunday. He made it into a select group of the strongest riders, and answered an attack by Uran with two kilometres remaining. He then surged himself, with only Valverde and Uran initially strong enough to go with him.
Although the other riders in the break were then able to get back up to them, Dunbar showed his strength again in the final sprint. The result shows that he has recovered well from his participation in his first-ever Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, and puts him in a superb position heading into Friday’s lumpy 187 kilometre race to Martres-Tolosane.
Dunbar predicts the following stage will be the big decider. “We have a really good team here. Me, Pavel and Sosa were all in that front group today. For sure we will go out and try to win the race on Saturday.”
Previously known as the Route du Sud, the race has been a successful one for Irish riders. Stephen Roche won it in 1985, Dan Martin took it in 2008 and Nicolas Roche triumphed in 2014.
Elsewhere, Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb) continued his advance in the Tour de Suisse, going from 15th to 10th overall on the mountain stage to Flumserberg. He placed 16th behind the winner Antwan Tolhoek (Team Jumbo-Visma).
Finally, former Cycling Ireland president Mick Lawless will be laid to rest on Friday, having passed away this week. He was a charismatic, generous and very likeable figure within Irish cycling, and did much as a volunteer to advance the sport.
His funeral mass will take place at 10am on Friday in St. Kevin’s Church, Kilnamanagh, with his burial in Newlands Cross Cemetery following that.
May he rest in peace.
LA ROUTE D’OCCITANIE, FRANCE (2.1)
Stage 1, Gignac - Vallée de l'Hérault to Saint-Geniez-d'Olt-et-d'Aubrac: 1, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 175.5 kilometres in 4 hours 44 mins 1 sec; 2, E. Dunbar (Team Ineos) same time; 3, É. Gesbert (Arkéa-Samsic) at 2 secs; 4, R. Urán (EF Education First); 5, T. Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale); 6, I. Sosa (Team Ineos), all at same time.
General classification: 1, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 4 hours 43 mins 51 secs; 2, E. Dunbar (Team Ineos) at 4 secs; 3, É. Gesbert (Arkéa-Samsic) at 8 secs; 4, R. Urán (EF Education First) at 12 secs; 5, T. Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale); 6, I. Sosa (Team Ineos), both same time
TOUR DE SUISSE, SWITZERLAND (WORLD¨ TOUR)
Stage 6, Einsiedeln to Flumserberg: 1, Antwan Tolhoek (Team Jumbo-Visma) 120.2 kilometres in 2 hours 43 mins 34 secs; 2, E. Bernal (Team Ineos) at 17 secs; 3, F. Bidard (AG2R La Mondiale) at 24 secs; 4, J. Hirt (Astana Pro Team) at 29 secs; 5, D. Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) at 31 secs; 6, P. Bevin (CCC Team) at 38 secs. Irish: 16, N. Roche (Team Sunweb) at 1 min 15 secs.
General classification after stage 6: 1, Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) 18 hours 40 mins 18 secs; 2, R. Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) at 12 secs; 3, P. Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) at 29 secs; 4, J. Hirt (Astana Pro Team) at 35 secs; 5, T. Benoot (Lotto Soudal); 6, M. Soler (Movistar Team) at 41 secs. Irish: 10, N. Roche (Team Sunweb) at 1 min 7 secs
Points classification: 1, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 37 pts; 2, E. Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) 32; 3, M. Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) 22
Mountain classification: 1, Claudio Imhoff (Switzerland) 25 pts; 2, G. Mannion (Rally UHC Cycling) 19; 3, A. Tolhoek (Team Jumbo-Visma) 12
TOUR OF SLOVENIA (2.HC): Stage 2, Maribor to Celje: 1, Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) 146.3 kilometres in 3 hours 35 mins 55 secs; 2, G. Bole (Bahrain-Merida); 3, A. Vendrame (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec); 4, G. Visconti (Neri Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM); 5, D. Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates); 6, A. Vlasov (Gazprom-Rusvelo) all same time. Irish: 117, C. Dunne (Israel Cycling Academy) at 14 mins 55 secs
General classification after stage 2: 1, Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) 7 hours 40 mins 43 secs; 2, G. Bole (Bahrain-Merida) at 4 secs; 3, A. Vendrame (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) at 6 secs; 4, D. Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) at 7 secs; 5, B. Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy) at 10 secs; 6, A. Vlasov (Gazprom-Rusvelo). Irish: 65, C. Dunne (Israel Cycling Academy) at 16 mins 3 secs.