Danish rider Nicolai Nielsen (Denmark Riwal Platform) secured a hard-fought opening stage victory on this year’s An Post Rás, narrowly leading a breakaway of three riders over the finish line in Longford town.
Dennis Bakker (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) finished on Nielsen’s shoulder in second place, with An Post Chain Reaction’s Polish sprinter Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz taking third, just ahead of Thomas Rostollon (France Armee de Terre).
For the second consecutive year, the race rolled out from the historic surroundings of Dublin Castle. A total of 193 riders made the start list, making it the largest Rás field since 2005.
Today’s 143 kilometre opening stage to Longford comprised one category three climb at Lough Crew and three An Post Hot Spot Sprints in Athboy, Oldcastle and Granard, with points for each contributing to time bonuses on the general classification (GC).
Following a neutralised section of 10 kilometres which passed by Christchurch and Heuston Station, the official drop of the flag came outside St Loman’s Hospital, Palmerstown.
It was an action packed opening, as expected on day one, with several breakaways quickly reeled in.
It was on the 40km mark as the peloton passed through Trim, Co Meath that the first successful breakaway was established - led by Przemyslaw. Rostollon and Bakker quickly followed and they were soon joined by Alexandre Blain (Britain Madison Genesis), Nielsen and Ireland’s Chris Glinchey (Cycling Ulster).
The lead group of six worked well together, building a lead of one min 20 seconds over a chasing pack of four riders which included Irishmen Sean Lacey (Cork Aqua Blue Sport), Simon Ryan (Cork Strata3 / VeloRevolution) and Richard Maes (Kerry Killarney).
The breakaway clocked a frightening speed of almost 50 kilometres in the first hour, and eventually the pace told for McGlinchey and Blain with both riders losing contact. The break showed no signs of letting up however, as the gap increased to over two minutes on the bunch. With less than 20 kilometres to go, it looked likely that they would hold on until the finish line.
Rostollon jumped clear briefly but couldn’t stay away and as the quartet turned the bend into Longford town with only 500 metres left to race, it was Nielsen who gritted his teeth and managed to edge out the victory.