Irish county rider Conor Dunne (Tipperary Carrick Iverk) saw off the challenge of Michael Northey (Britain Node 4 Giordana) to sprint to victory on the opening stage of this year’s An Post Rás in Longford Town.

Roy Eefting (Holland Koga Cycling) finished in third place, leading the peloton over the line, 23 seconds behind.

A total of 182 riders made the starting list for this year’s race and, with sunny temperatures and only a slight wind, a fast and furious pace was predicted on a relatively flat route to Longford.

Dunne was aggressive from the off and was the first to attack, accompanied by Dan Barry (Britain Node 4 Giordana), but they were swallowed up by the bunch after a short time in the break.

A sizeable group of 18 riders, including Dunne and Northey, went clear after 45km, establishing a gap of over 38 seconds.

The breakaway rode at a ferocious pace, covering over 48km in the first hour, before the peloton reeled them in once more, at the 80km mark.

Northey and Dunne established a slight lead with 20km remaining, gradually building it up to 28 seconds from the chasing Ray O’Shaughnessy (Louth Prague Charter) and Michael Nicholson (Scotland National Team). The main field struggled to keep up at this point, falling 54 seconds behind with time quickly running out.

O’Shaughnessy and Nicholson were soon swallowed up by the chasing bunch while Dunne and Northey pushed each other on, extending their lead to exactly one minute with 10 kilometres to go.

It was now a head-to-head sprint to the finish line between the pair and, as they turned into the last straight into Longford’s town centre, huge crowds roared on county rider Dunne as he broke away from Northey to claim a magnificent victory.

Dunne leads the general classification by four seconds, claiming the first yellow jersey of the week, as well as the Under 23 and the county rider jerseys.

Dunne was delighted that he held on for the win after spending most of the day out front.

“I'm really, really happy. I've wanted to get a win this season," he said. "I've come close and I felt I have been going well but just needed a bit of luck. It all came together today.

When the gap was still there with one kilometre to go I knew one of us would get it. He's a strong guy (Northey), and I wasn't sure what would happen. I had strong legs, believed in myself and gave everything."

Stage Highlights

Stage 1 Results: Dunboyne - Longford

1 - Dunne,Conor (TIPPERARY Carrick Iverk) 2h48’55"

2 - Northey,Michael (BRITAIN NODE4 Giordana) @s/t

3 - Eefting,Roy (HOLLAND Koga Cycling Team) @23"

4 - Rogers,Rico (AZERBAIJAN Synergy Baku) @s/t

5 - Edmuller,Benjamin (AUSTRIA Arbo Gebrder) @s/t

6 - Oellegaard,Morten (DENMARK Blue Water Cycling) @s/t

7 - Hunal,Martin (Czech Republic Sparta Praha) @s/t

8 - Doull,Owain (Great Britain National Team) @s/t

9 - Fitzgerald,Mehall (TIPPERARY Visit @s/t

10 - Vereecken,Nicholas (Belg. An Post Chain Reaction) @s/t

General Classification

1 - Dunne,Conor (TIPPERARY Carrick Iverk Prod) 2h48’45"

2 - Northey,Michael (BRITAIN NODE4 Giordana) @04"

3 - Eefting,Roy (Koga Cycling Team) @29"

4 - Hunal,Martin (Czech Republic Sparta Praha) @29"

5 - Buggle,Aaron (BRITAIN Rapha Condor JLT) @30"

6 - Oliphant,Evan (Scotland National Team) @31"

7 - Hawkins,Peter (BRITAIN IG - Sigma Sport) @31"

8 - Partridge,Rob (BRITAIN UK Youth Pro Cycling) @32"

9 - Rogers,Rico (AZERBAIJAN Synergy Baku) @33"

10 - Edmuller,Benjamin (AUSTRIA Arbo Gebrder) @33