GERMAN TRIUMPH ON DAY FIVE
Nico Graf and his Germany Thuringer Energie team-mate Tony Martin were celebrating at the end of yesterday’s tough fifth stage of the FBD Insurance Rás, with the former taking the stage victory in Buncrana and the latter moving in the yellow jersey of race leader. It was an excellent day for the squad, and they will now try to win the race overall.
“It was a hard day,” said Graf, who was clear for almost the entire stage with Paídi O’Brien (Ireland Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group/M. Donnelly Sean Kelly), Ricardo Van der Velde (Netherlands), Jason Hegert (Australia FRF Couriers) and Yannick Tiedt (Germany Stevens Von Hacht).
“We thought that there would be a fast start at the beginning and there would be a selection. After ten kilometres there was a big group and then there were attacks. I had to go with the Dutch rider [Van der Velde]. After forty kilometres we were in the group with five riders. I knew that it was a long way to the finish but I had good legs.
“Our group was good together, every rider drove it. The gap to the field became bigger. I didn’t want to go for the mountain prizes or anything else, because I wanted to aim for the stage. In the general classification I am very much behind because two days ago I lost 20 minutes. The GC was finished for me then.”
Martin is delighted with his new jersey. This marks the third time he has led a big stage race; last year he won the Internationale Thüringen-Rundfahrt under 23 event. Earlier this year he won a stage of the Circuit des Ardennes, so he has the ability to come out on top here.
“Today was a tough race, but the race leader’s team [Anthony's US Kodak Gallery Sierra Nevada squad] had to drive the pace all the time so I could sit behind them. It was not so hard for me. But on the mountain I had to give it everything, it was very hard. I think the day was harder for the yellow jersey, though.”
He’s hopeful of defending his lead, but he knows nothing is guaranteed. “It is very difficult because we don’t know the course for the next few days. We have to see what the rest of the peloton will do.”
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS NEW TARGET FOR VAN DER VELDE
Former race leader Ricardo Van der Velde (Netherlands) finished third on the stage behind Graf and Paídi O’Brien (Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group/M. Donnelly Sean Kelly), but has now taken what should be an unbeatable lead in the king of the mountains classification. He is now 34 points clear of Jesse Anthony; with eight category three climbs remaining in the race, a prime win on each of these would yield 40 points. So it is looking good.
“The plan was to have our best riders in the front from the beginning and make the race hard from then,” he said, explaining their tactics. “That worked out well. We went away with a fairly large group. I noticed that the German rider who was also going for the mountains jersey was not in the group, so it was easy for me to get the points.
“The group was going slower and slower after that and I attacked again as I saw the German rider was coming back. A small group came up to me and we all worked really well together.
“I think I was the best uphill and everyone in the break said to me that I could have the points. It is a pity there wasn’t an uphill finish because I think I would have won then. They caught me inside the final two kilometres and as they are faster than me, they finished ahead.
“I am happy to have the mountains jersey. There are still three stages to go but I want to try to hold on to it.”
‘STILL POSSIBLE TO WIN’ - HERETY
Double FBD Insurance Rás champion Chris Newton finished fourth on the stage, and probably covered the final 20 kilometres faster than any other rider. He won here the last time the race visited in 2003, going on to land the overall victory.
Newton missed an important move earlier in the week and is now 5th overall, one minute and two seconds back. Britain Stena Line Recycling.co.uk manager John Herety was happy yesterday, though, and believes that the win is still possible.
“Things have gone exactly right for us. That’s what we wanted to happen, that Chris would move a little bit closer. We planned to have a go, even if we didn’t quite catch the leaders. I think that Skerries will be the day, to be honest, there is still some really hard racing left.
“I think the win is possible all right. We have been trying to keep a low profile up until now. That was necessary because the team is so young, we are hoping to piggyback the other teams. Chris is moving closer and Skerries will be a hard day.
“He missed the move the other day. He had a bit of bad luck. You can’t do everything yourself. On other occasions there would have been another one of our riders in there, we would have had another card to play, but when you have only got one card to play it is quite difficult.”
Herety has a strong knowledge of the race and knows that the aggressive, unpredictable nature of the event could work out to their advantage.
“I think now it is important to keep our eyes open and work out what is going to happen. It is the Rás, so it doesn’t always go the way the textbook says. In fact, it quite rarely goes how the textbook says! We are still hoping.”