Ireland celebrated its first win of this year’s An Post Rás and its first 1-2 in this edition as Eoin Morton of UCD Fitzcycles won stage 2 out of a two-man move ahead of Bryan McCrystal of Asea Wheelworx. Aaron Gate crossed the line in 8th place while the GC standings saw Dylan Kennett hold on to second overall.
The longest stage of this year’s An Post Rás, the stage from Mullingar to Charleville was 183.7km in length and contained just the one categorised climb up Shalee. The stage drew out plenty of attackers including Irish national champion Damien Shaw of An Post Chainreaction and king of the mountains leader Eoin Morton of UCD Fitzcycles. Morton’s move looked like it would succeed as he got away and was caught up to by Daire Feeley of Team iTap and Adam Armstrong of Asea Wheelworx. They had at one point a lead of 1.15mins and looked like they were establishing the break of the day but that was not to be as the bunch appeared to have itchy feet; bringing them back and catching them after just 55km of racing.
Morton wasn’t done though, he persisted, and after a couple of brief skirmishes off the front of the bunch that were brought back, he again tried his luck with Bryan McCrystal joining him this time. This time the impetus in the bunch had worn off a little and the break was able to build up a sizeable advantage. Going through halfway the gap was growing and growing to the point of tipping 7 minutes.
The lead wouldn’t get any larger for the breakaway but they would show some impressive resilience as they tried to hold off the bunch behind them. After Morton took the KOM points to add to his lead the breakaway duo continued on with a lead of 5 minutes with 50km left to race. At the rate they were going it would be a close run thing.
Over the course of the next 25km the break worked tirelessly and were rewarded with just a minor drop in their lead to 4.07mins. But the peloton were ramping up their pace, possibly aware that they might have been caught out in stage 2 and determined for that not to be the case. With 17km to go the gap dropped rapidly to 2.45mins, but with the kilometres gradually ticking away McCrystal appeared to have the more nervous energy in the break as he decided to go on the attack. Morton was right on his case though as he brought him back.
Heading beneath the 10km to go banner it was looking increasingly likely that the two riders would be able to stay clear of the bunch. With 6km to go the gap was still a sizeable 1.30mins; and although that gap would drop to 40 seconds with 2km to go it would not be enough to snatch the win from one of the two Irishmen.
Perhaps his dig earlier on was a sign that a sprint would not suit him. Either way Morton showed a clean pair of wheels to McCrystal who was comfortably distanced after more than 4 hours in the saddle. Nicolai Brøchner crossed he line third for Riwal Platform, while behind them a crash disrupted the final 2km for the peloton. But because the crash happened inside of 3km from the finish it didn’t make a difference to the general classification.
Aaron Gate followed teammates Nicolas Vereecken and Emiel Wastyn across the line, becoming one of three An Post-Chainreaction riders in the top 8. Meanwhile, Nick Kergozou of the Cycling New Zealand National Team made up for being caught in the crashes in day 1 by taking his place in the top 20 in stage 2. Teammates Hayden Roulston, Pieter Bulling, Regan Gough and Dylan Kennett all finished with the same time; as did Taylor Gunman of Madison Genesis. Scott Thomas of Data#3 Cisco Racing Team p/b Scody finished in the next group on the road.
The result leaves nothing changed in the top three overall, with Dylan Kennett still in the hot seat for best young rider. It does mean that Taylor Gunman drops to 11th overall from 7th, and despite finishing 8th Aaron Gate drops one place to 15th, Gate’s Irish squad are sitting 4th in the team standings just behind New Zealand.