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James Gullen stays clear of trouble to close in on Rás crown

British rider conserved his solid advantage ahead of Sunday's final stage to Skerries

The An Post Rás goes through Laghey in Co Donegal. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Just one day to Skerries. An Post Rás race leader James Gullen can breathe a sigh of relief, with the British rider conserving his solid advantage after the penultimate day of the race. The seventh stage from Donegal to Ardee lacked categorised climbs but made up for that with continuous rain and wet roads.

A crash, a puncture or a mechanical issue could have complicated things but, in the end, it was more straightforward than it might have been.

“It was a tough, hectic day. The conditions made it pretty tough,” the JLT Condor rider said. “But the lads rode superbly again. I couldn’t ask for any more. We controlled it as much as well could.

“I just sat back and let the lads control all the attacks that weren’t so much of a threat. There was not too many numbers to watch out for because the gaps are so big [in the general classification]. If anything really important went away, then I tried to cover that.”

One big move did get clear, but as the best-placed rider overall in that break started the day eight minutes and 30 seconds back, there was no panic.

The rider concerned – Daan Meijers of the Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam squad – combined with team-mate Jan Willem Van Schip, Darragh O’Mahony (Ireland National Team), Regan Gough (Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) and Tilen Finkst (Slovenia ROG Ljubljana) in a long-distance break.

This went clear just after a bigger move was caught 82 kilometres after the start in Donegal town, and as the group exited a long sector of the stage passing through Northern Ireland, worked well together to build an advantage.

The gap rose to almost three minutes, after which the bunch knuckled down to the chase. With 25 kilometres to go it was down to one minute and 50 seconds, and with seven kilometres to go it was just over a minute. However, it wasn’t falling quickly enough to bring them back and when the attacking began for the stage win, team-mates Meijers and Van Schip proved best.

They raced on to the finish where Meijers rolled across the line first, with the Kiwi Gough and Irishman O’Mahony finishing five seconds back in third and fourth. Finkst was two seconds further back in fifth.

The peloton finished 52 seconds behind, with stage six winner Yannis Yssaad (France Armée de Terre) quickest in the gallop and Richard Maes (Kerry Killarney) best of the county riders in ninth.

“It was a very tough stage with the weather conditions,” said a pleased Meijers afterwards. “Great team work ensured we won the stage in the end.”

Maes was happy with his second top 10 finish of the race, not least because he had bike problems which impeded him in the sprint and beforehand.

He said his electronic rear derailleur stopped functioning 50 kilometres into the stage, keeping him in the biggest gear. Aside from imposing extra load on his legs, it also meant he had to sprint from a long way out, winding the gear up gradually.

Gullen ended the stage as he began it. He is one minute and five seconds ahead of Ike Groen (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) at one minute and five seconds and a further one minute 30 up on Cameron Meyer (Australia National Team).

Damien Shaw (Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) is best Irishman in fifth, four minutes and 32 seconds back, while Michael O’Loughlin (Team Wiggins) stays ninth and remains best young rider.

Gullen has reason to be optimistic, but knows it’s too soon to celebrate. He still needs to negotiate the concluding 129.4 kilometre race from Ardee to Skerries.

“It is a short stage tomorrow,” he said. “But then it is the Rás, and anything can happen, can’t it?”

Still, he knows that the ambitions of others might work in his favour. “It is the Skerries stage – a few guys might want to sprint so we might get a bit of help anyway.”

That may be true, but another long range breakaway is almost guaranteed. So too some final efforts by his rivals to dislodge him.

Stage seven, Donegal to Ardee: 1, Daan Meijers (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) 167.3 kilometres in 3 hours 32 mins 15 secs; 2, J. Willem Van Schip (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) same time; 3, R. Gough (Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) at 5 secs; 4, D. O’Mahony (Ireland National Team) same time; 5, T. Finkst (Slovenia ROG Ljubljana) at 7 secs; 6, Y. Yssaad (France Armée de Terre) at 52 secs; 7, C. Latham (Britain Team Wiggins) ; 8, G. Thijssen (Belgian National Team) ; 9, R. Maes (Kerry Killarney) ; 10, Z. Jerman (Slovenia ROG Ljubljana) ; 11, M. Downey (Ireland National Team) ; 12, F. Ryan (Westmeath Team Planet X Carnac) ; 13, J. Hesters (Belgian National Team) ; 14, N. Granigan (USA CCB Velotooler) ; 15, A. Blain (Britain Madison Genesis) all same time

City North county rider: 1, Richard Maes (Kerry Killarney) 3 hours 33 mins 7 secs; 2, F. Ryan (Westmeath Team Planet X Carnac) ; 3, S. Ryan (Cork Strata3 / VeloRevolution) ; 4, C. McGlinchey (Cycling Ulster) all same time; 5, C. McIntyre (Cycling Ulster) at 6 secs

Team (non-county): 1, Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam, 10 hours 37 mins 37 secs; 2, Ireland national team, 10 hours 38 mins 40 secs; 3, Slovenia ROG Ljubljana, 10 hours 38 mins 42 secs; 4, Ireland An Post Chain Reaction, 10 hours 36 mins 46 secs; 5, Belgian national team, 10 hours 39 mins 27 secs

Irish county team: 1, Cycling Ulster, 10 hours 39 mins 33 secs; 2, Antrim Phoenix, 10 hours 39 mins 39 secs; 3, Tipperary Panduit, same time; 4, Cork Strata3/VeloRevolution, 10 hours 39 mins 53 secs; 5, Down Bikehouse, 10 hours 39 mins 59 secs

Overall classification after stage six: 1, James Gullen (Britain JLT Condor) 24 hours 24 secs; 2, I. Groen (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) at 1 min 5 secs; 3, C. Meyer (Australia National Team) at 2 mins 35; 4, T. Ronning Vinther (Denmark Riwal Platform Cycling) at 4 mins 26 ; 5, D. Shaw (Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) at 4 mins 32 secs; 6, M. Kneisky (France Armée de Terre) at 5 mins 34 secs; 7, S. Poulhies (France Armée de Terre) at 5 mins 49 secs; 8, T. Rostollon (France Armée de Terre) at 7 mins 10 secs; 9, M. O’Loughlin (Britain Team Wiggins) at 7 mins 13 secs; 10, D. Meijers (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) at 7 mins 32 secs; 11, R. Gough (Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) at 8 mins 8 secs; 12, M. Teggart (Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) at 9 mins 16 secs; 13, J. Aaen Jørgensen (Denmark Riwal Platform Cycling) same time; 14, M. Downey (Ireland National Team) at 9 mins 17 secs; 15, D. Feeley (Galway Team iTap) at 10 mins 18 secs

Points classification: 1, Daan Meijers (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) 59 points; 2, D. Bakker (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) 49; 3, Y. Yssaad (France Armée de Terre) 42; 4, S. Poulhies (France Armée de Terre) 41; 5, J. Willem Van Schip (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) 37

Mountains: 1, Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz (Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) 59; 2, M. Storer (Australia National Team) 40 pts; 3, D. Gardias (Britain Bike Channel Canyon) 27; 4, G. Lewis (Britain Madison Genesis) 26; 5, D. Meijers (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) 17

Young rider: 1, Michael O’Loughlin (Britain Team Wiggins) 24 hours 7 mins 37 sec; 2, R. Gough (Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) at 55 secs; 3, M. Teggart (Ireland An Post Chain Reaction) at 2 mins 3 secs; 4, M. Downey (Ireland National Team) at 2 mins 4 secs; 5, D. Feeley (Galway Team iTap) at 3 mins 5 secs

County rider: 1, Daire Feeley (Galway Team iTap) 24 hours 10 mins 36 secs; 2, P. Lavery (Tipperary Panduit) at 4 mins 40 secs; 3, C. McGlinchey (Cycling Ulster) at 4 mins 48 secs; 4, L. Watson (Cycling Ulster) at 15 mins 45 secs; 5, M. Dowling (Cork Strata3 / VeloRevolution) at 17 mins 8 secs

Team (non-county): 1, Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam, 72 hours 11 mins 27 secs; 2, Ireland An Post Chain Reaction, at 2 mins 24 secs; 3, France Armée de Terre, at 6 mins 55 secs; 4, Australia National Team, at 16 mins 53 secs; 5, Denmark Riwal Platform, at 20 mins 50 secs

Irish county team: 1, Cork Strata3/Velorevolution, 73 hours 31 mins 16 secs; 2, Cycling Ulster, at 4 mins 17 secs; 3, Cork Aqua Blue Sport, at 11 mins 55 secs; 4, Down Bikehouse, at 28 mins 28 secs; 5, Tipperary Panduit, at 29 mins 6 secs