County rider Roger Aiken put in a phenomenal performance on day seven of An Post Rás, agonisingly missing out on a memorable stage victory which was won by Czech rider Tomas Okrouhlicky (Czech Republic Sparta Praha).
The Louth Prague Charter rider finished inches behind Okrouhlicky in the sprint to the line, with Jacub Kratochvila (Austria Arbo Gebruder Weiss) marginally back in third place.
The trio led the breakaway to the finish from 25km out and crossed the line 23 seconds ahead of the yellow-jersey group containing Marcin Bialoblocki (Britain UK Youth Pro Cycling), Connor McConvey (Azerbaijan Synergy Baku) and Rasmus Guldhammer.
The result means no change at the top of the general classification with Bialoblocki leading, but McConvey and Guldhammer locked on the same time as the Polish rider heading into tomorrow’s final stage.
Aiken’s magnificent ride today saw him move up to eighth position overall, overtaking Simon Yates (Great Britain National Team) whilst also claiming the county rider jersey for the stage.
Today’s penultimate stage from Carlow to Naas was arguably the toughest, with eight climbs facing the riders in the 141-kilometre route.
Four of those climbs qualified as either first or second category ascents, making for a very difficult day in the saddle.
It was a fast-paced first hour of racing with several attempts at a breakaway proving unsuccessful.
Six riders eventually went clear approaching the category two climb of Ballythomas, including Kenny De Ketele (Belgium National Team), Okrouhlicky and yesterday’s stage winner, Rico Rogers (Azerbaijan Synergy Baku).
Entering Arklow, at the 60-kilometre mark, the breakaway had opened a lead of one minute 40 seconds.
De Ketele and Okrouhlicky pushed further ahead before the Belgian rider was dropped, leaving Okrouhlicky riding solo out in front.
Aiken was lurking all the while behind and gave chase to the leader along with Kratochvila, narrowing the gap to only ten seconds. The Irishman briefly overtook Okrouhlicky to lead the race, before the trio came together on the descent of the category one Wicklow Gap.
Meanwhile, in the main bunch, Bialoblocki led the chase one minute back with McConvey and Guldhammer unable to distance themselves from the yellow jersey holder.
With 10 kilometres to go, it was clear that the lead trio would not be caught and it came down to a scintillating sprint finish on the straight into Naas town centre, with Okrouhlicky pipping Aiken to the line.
There was no change to the king of the mountains jersey or the Under-23 jersey with Martin Hunal (Czech Republic Sparta Praha) and Simon Yates (Great Britain National Team) once again holding claim to them. Owain Doull overtook Bialoblocki to lead the Sprints classification and take the green jersey.
Despite a magnificent performance Aiken was disappointed not to take the stage victory.
"It’s disappointing not to get the (stage) win. I was riding hard at the end" - Aiken
“It’s disappointing not to get the win. I was riding hard at the end, going for time, to try move myself up in the GC, but maybe I should have conserved my legs to try take the stage but I had a go anyway.
"Today was hard because it’s the end of the week and everybody’s tired, the legs aren’t as fresh but it’s the second day in a row our team (Louth Prague Charter) have taken the county jersey so we have to be pleased with that,” Aiken added.
Race leader Bialoblocki was again full of praise for his team.
"No-one was stronger than me today and I was quite comfortable" - Bialoblocki
"The strategy for the day was to follow the other two guys (McConvey and Guldhammer) and not to let them go. My teammates again did great work for me.
"There were a few tough climbs on the stage but no-one was stronger than me and I was quite comfortable.
"My ambition for the Rás was to have the yellow jersey after stage seven, not after the third stage. Now it’s stage seven and I have my yellow jersey.
"My teammates have helped me to defend the jersey. Without them I would have lost it for sure."
An Post Rás stage six: Carlow to Naas
1 Tomas Okrouhlicky (Czech Republic Ac Sparta Praha) 3 hours 26 mins 14 secs
2 Roger Aiken (Louth Prague Charter Team) same time
3 Jakub Kratochvila (Austria Arbo Gebrder Weiss) same time
4 Michael Northey (Britain Node4 Giordana Racing) at 22 secs
5 Ben Greenwood (Scotland National Team) same time
6 Owain Doull (Great Britain National Team) at 23 secs
7 Nicholas Vereecken (Belgium An Post Chain Reaction) same time
8 Jasper De Buyst (Belgium National Team) same time
9 Marcin Bialoblocki (Britain Uk Youth Pro Cycling) same time
10 Daniel Foder (Denmark Blue Water Cycling) same time
Overall classification after seven stages
1 Marcin Bialoblocki (Britain Uk Youth Pro Cycling) 23 hours 52 mins 27 secs
2 Connor McConvey (Azerbaijan Synergy Baku)
3 Rasmus Guldhammer (Denmark Blue Water Cycling) both same time
4 Richard Handley (Britain Rapha Condor JLT) at 24 secs
5 Remi Pelletier-Roy (Canada National Team) same time
6 Daniel Foder (Denmark Blue Water Cycling) at 46 secs
7 Martin Hunal (Czech Republic Ac Sparta Praha) at 48 secs
8 Roger Aiken (Louth Prague Charter Team) at 51 secs
9 Simon Yates (Great Britain National Team) at 52 secs
10 Jasper De Buyst (Belgium National team) at 1 min 39 secs