Stage winner on Tuesday, race leader on Wednesday: for Irish rider Matthew Teggart, this An Post Rás has got off to a start he didn't anticipate.
“I actually can’t believe it,” he told the Irish Times in Buncrana, minutes after donning the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. “After yesterday I didn’t think I could top that. To be in yellow today is an absolute dream come true. Literally after yesterday I thought ‘job done.’ If I finished dead last every other day I would be happy enough. But to take yellow is an absolute honour.”
Hailing from a strong cycling heritage, Teggart had started the day third overall, 22 seconds behind race leader Dennis Bakker (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) and level on time with Stéphane Poulhies (France Armée de Terre). The stage from Bundoran was the first day in the big mountains and, on those gradients, the two ahead of him ultimately struggled.
When a seven-man group got clear inside the second hour of racing this put pressure on Bakker and his team and he subsequently cracked and slipped backwards. Teggart also suspected that Poulhies might not fare well on the difficult terrain.
“The race leader’s team-mates were on the front on a climb with about 40 kilometres to go,” he said. “But he let the wheel go and went backwards. I knew that was him gone. The other guy [Poulhies] is a big sprinter so I knew there was a good chance he would be dropped too.”
Once that happened, Teggart and his An Post Chainreaction squad were ready to turn the screw. However, they were initially hamstrung in how much pressure they could apply as team-mate Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz was already clear ahead.
The Pole had joined forces with the Australian national team rider Michael Storer and Jacob Sitler (USA CCB Velotooler) after the climb of Old Mountain, and started the ferociously-steep first category Mamore Gap together.
Storer pushed on alone and Sitler dropped Kasperkiewicz in pursuit, meaning Teggart’s team could then give it everything.
Although they weren’t able to reel in Storer or Sitler before the line, those riders finishing one minute 26 and three seconds ahead respectively, that didn’t matter. They had already lost a lot of time overall and so the big priority for Teggart was to finish ahead of the five other riders who had started the day level with him.
In taking second in their group sprint for third on the stage, he achieved that goal. He is now ahead of Troels Ronning Vinther (Denmark Riwal Platform Cycling), Ike Groen (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam), team-mate Damien Shaw and two others, and will wear yellow on Thursday.
“I just have to try my best to hold onto it now,” he said. “To even get yellow is a dream come true, so we will just take each day as it comes and see what happens.”
Storer’s ride underlined how strong he is and with more mountains to come, he can’t be written off. However, time losses on stages one and two mean he is one minute 15 back in 11th and has a lot to do. Right now Teggart is in the driving seat and the 21-year-old will do everything he can to continue what has been a dream week for him.