Swiss rider Cyrille Thiery dominates first day of Rás Tailteann on debut
Irish riders Jake Gray lie in third place overall while former national champion Damien Shaw is seventh
Cyrille Thiery of the Switzerland National Team wins the first stage of the Rás Tailteann from Drogheda to Athlone. Photograph: Inpho
Taking first on the day’s two hilltop primes and then jumping away with a kilometre to go, Swiss national team rider Cyrille Thiery was dominant on stage one of the Rás Tailteann on Sunday. The 27 year old was making his Rás debut but needed no time at all to settle in.
He went clear after the first hill prime at Slane with 10 others, then helped build a lead which would prove strong enough for that group to stay away until the finish in Athlone.
“With the team, we were thinking that this could be a bunch sprint,” he said, talking about what his expectations had been prior to the race start in Drogheda. “But after 40, 50 kilometres, I saw a lot of attacks and this little group went away. I was one of the last guys to come into the group. I attacked in the last kilometre, and finally I could win the stage.”
His move saw him hit the line four seconds clear of his breakaway companions, with Luuc Bugter (Netherlands Delta Cycling X), Robbe Ghys (Belgian National Team), Jason van Dalen (Netherlands Delta Cycling X) and Dexter Gardias (Britain Canyon Eisberg) completing the top five. The break also included two Irish riders; Jake Gray (Ireland National Team) was sixth while former national champion Damien Shaw (Ireland Holdsworth Pro Racing Team) finished 10th.
Thanks to the time bonuses he picked up when he won the Hot Spot Sprints in Rochfortbridge and Kilbeggan, Shaw ended the day in third place overall. Thiery has a 10 second lead over Bugter and is a further second ahead of the Irishman.
Gray is 16 seconds back in seventh overall, while his teammate Robert-Jon McCarthy, who led in the main bunch behind the break, is 11th.
“It was a typical [Rás] start,” Shaw said. “There were a lot of different attacks going. To be fair, I was with a lot of stuff [moves] and just in the right one that stuck.”
The break established a lead of almost a minute but then the bunch responded, hacking that advantage down to under 30 seconds. “I thought about maybe sitting up,” Shaw admitted, “but why would you really on home turf?”
Surprisingly to him and the others, the gap went back out again. “Once we came out of the narrow roads into the big roads, I thought ‘that’s it, they will see us and we are caught.’ But for some reason it stuck. I think the bunch backed off.”
That would prove to be a big error as by the time the teams behind finally got organised, it was too late. They chased but the peloton finished 23 seconds back.
Shaw said that he has only raced four times this year with his Irish-registered, British-based Continental level team. He admits that he is unsure of his form but, once in the move and close to the finish, he tried what he could to win the stage.
“Sprinting wouldn’t be my forte. I had a couple of digs out the road and probably burned my matches there,” he said. “I was kind of a bit spent with 1,500 to go. But that was my chance . . . I am not going to take a sprint from most of these guys.”
Monday’s second stage will cover 148.7 undulating kilometres from Athlone. It features a category two climb early on and then two subsequent category three ascents prior to a flat, fast run in to the finish in Tipperary.
Thiery will start the day in the yellow jersey and said he hopes to defend it. “The tactic will be to try to have some guys in the breakaway. Not just me, the other guys from the team. All the guys are strong,” he said.
He also leads the points and mountains classifications but, as he can only wear one jersey, his stint in yellow will see Bugter and Shaw ride the stage in the colours of best sprinter and best climber.
Meanwhile the search continues for a new title sponsor for the race after An Post ended its long backing last year. Race director Eimear Dignam told The Irish Times on Sunday that she is in ongoing talks with potential replacements, but that there wasn’t time enough to secure a title sponsorship for this edition. She is hopeful that a deal will be in place for the 2019 edition.
In the meantime, this year’s race was able to go ahead thanks to a budget reserve which had been built up in other years, as well as the support of a number of partners.