Seán McKenna shrugs off knee pain to claim stage six of Rás Tailteann

Irishman delighted as he clinches victory in the bunch sprint into Carlow

Riders pass the Rock of Cashel during stage  six of the Rás Tailteann, from  Mitchelstown to Carlow yesterday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Riders pass the Rock of Cashel during stage six of the Rás Tailteann, from Mitchelstown to Carlow yesterday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Irishman Seán McKenna raced to victory on stage six of the Rás Tailteann on Friday, winning a bunch sprint into Carlow – but earlier was in despair about even finishing the race.

“I have had knee trouble the last two days. I swear to God, I was thinking of climbing off inside the first ten kilometres,” he said at the finish.

“I went back to Frankie [Campbell, the Ireland Holdsworth Pro Racing team manager] and I was like, ‘what will I do?’ He just told me to keep riding.”

McKenna’s knee settled down sufficiently for him to be in the thick of things in the end. He was trying to lead out his teammates but one of them, former national champion Damien Shaw, deliberately let a gap open in the run in to the line.

This caught out some of the sprinters and, aided by a tailwind, McKenna was able to whip past those ahead of him. He hit the line in front of Claudio Imhof (Switzerland National Team), Netherlands Delta Cycling X duo Luuc Bugter and Rens Tulner, Ireland national team rider Marc Potts plus the rest of the main bunch.

“It is unbelievable,” said McKenna, son of former international Mick McKenna and nephew of current Cycling Ireland president Ciarán. “To make my family happy means so much to me.”

The undulating stage from Mitchelstown featured an eight-man breakaway group and five of these – Marc Potts (Ireland National Team), Russell Downing (Ireland Holdsworth Pro Racing Team), Fintan Ryan (Cycling Leinster), Philip Lavery (Cork Strata 3 – VeloRevolution Cycling Team) and Ulises Alfredo Castillo Soto (USA Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis) were still out front inside the final ten kilometres.

Lavery had at one point been race leader on the road but hard chasing by the bunch caused the advantage to plummet and eventually the break was caught inside three kilometres to go.

Overnight leader Cyrille Thiery finished in the same time as McKenna and retains his overall lead. He stays ten seconds clear of Bugter, 11 ahead of best Irishman Shaw and 13 up on Robbe Ghys (Belgian National Team).

Saturday’s stage through the Wicklow Mountains will be a big test, but he is upbeat.

“I felt really good during the stage. Today it was really a good stage for us with the breakaway,” he said. “We didn’t have to work. I won’t say it was an easy day, but finally everything was good. It is just a shame we didn’t win the stage, with Claudio [Imhof] getting second.

“It is hard to say how Saturday will go. I feel really confident with the team and with my legs. I just have to analyse the course a bit. It is up to us to find the solution to keep the yellow jersey.”

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