Matthew Fox took the second consecutive Rás Tailteann stage victory for a British team on Thursday, winning a 62-man bunch sprint into Barefield in Ennis. The Wheelbase Cabtech Castelli competitor finished slightly ahead of Patrick O’Loughlin (Team Ireland), best of the home riders, with Matteo Cigala (Dan Morrissey-Primor Pissei) and Odhrán Doogan (Team Ireland) third and fourth.
“It was really nervous,” said Fox after the stage. “The whole running off of the [final] climb was just attack after attack. The headwind kind of neutralised it. I followed a couple of attacks, but then with eight kilometres to go or so, I thought we’ll go all in for the sprint and see what we can do. And the team backed me. They brought me into a good position with 500 to go and then I just followed the wheels.”
O’Loughlin is riding his first Rás Tailteann and has quickly got up to speed, the first year senior surprising himself by almost taking the stage. He explained afterwards that the Team Ireland squad was working for Doogan, who was second on stage four last year, and that he was given a free role in the finale.
“We were probably as strong as each other, but he didn’t want me in the [lead-out] train at the same time,” he said. “So I was given free rein. I didn’t know who to choose [to follow], because some of these English lads ... I wouldn’t know them, but I know they’re strong.
“It was a real fight for position in the last k[ilometre]. Some fellas went too early which was perfect for me to surf on wheels, trying to just get in the draught for as long as I could. And then when the gap opened, I finally kicked. It was all out from there to the line. But I surprised myself, so I’m happy with that.”
Stage one winner Conor McGoldrick (Richardsons Trek DAS) came under multiple attacks during the 154.5-kilometre stage from Birr but appeared unflappable. He and his team controlled those moves, and he also took all bar one of the mountain primes along the way to boost his lead in the King of the Mountains competition. Indeed he only missed out on a clean sweep due to confusion over the location of a prime line on the Twin Pillar climb.
He kept a close eye on his rivals on the run-in towards the finish, and didn’t panic when the in-form Conn McDunphy (Cycling Leinster) fired off at least two big attacks inside the final 25 kilometres. McGoldrick rolled in 14th and maintained his grip on the yellow jersey, ending the day four seconds clear of Dan Gardner (Embark Spirit BSS) and six ahead of a third Briton, Joe Laverick (Foyle CC).
US-based Cormac McGeough (Good Guys Racing) remains best of the Irish in fourth, 14 seconds back, with McDunphy a further three seconds down in fifth place.
The Rás continues on Friday with a stage billed as being for the sprinters. It does include two category three climbs but is otherwise flat and fast, running 149.3 kilometres from Ennis to Castlebar and passing through towns such as Athenry, Tuam and Ballinrobe.
Irish 19-year-old O’Loughlin said he took encouragement from his second place and promised to try again. “All I needed was just a bit of confidence, the legs to show myself that I can do it. It is only up from here, hopefully.”