Carrick-an-Suir native Sam Bennett won a thrilling bunch sprint into Listowel to claim two consecutive stage wins for the An Post Chain Reaction Sean Kelly team at An Post Rás.
Hot on the heels of Bennett was Morten Oellegaard (Denmark Blue Water Cycling) who took second place with Poland’s Marcin Bialoblocki (Britain UK Youth Pro Cycling) who finished in third.
Bialoblocki’s second top three finish in consecutive days earns him the yellow jersey and puts him top of the general classification going into stage four.
Today’s 141 kilometre stage from Nenagh into Listowel was hillier than the previous two days, with two category three climbs. Thirteen kilometres from the start, the second category climb of Bolingbrook had the potential to split the peloton early on and this proved to be the case.
Three riders attacked aggressively following the descent of Bolingbrook. Antrim native Sean Downey (An Post Chain Reaction Sean Kelly) and Dan Barry (Node 4 Giordana) broke away, building a 22 second lead over the chasing Roger Aiken (Louth Prague Charter).
Aiken rode hard, eventually bridging the gap and the three-man move charged further ahead of the chasing peloton, establishing a huge gap of over six minutes at one stage. Several groups of chasers tried to reel the trio in but to no avail.
Back in the peloton, a bad crash around Ballyneety ended yellow jersey leader Peter Hawkins’ day. The Belfast native finished in fourth place on yesterday’s stage, putting him top of the general classification and he had looked a real threat for the remainder of the race. However, following on-the-scene medical advice, he was forced to withdraw from the race with a suspected broken collarbone.
Meanwhile, the hard work at the front by the breakaway eventually took its toll on the riders. Following the final climb of the day at Athea, the trio were reeled in by the bunch and with only 15 kilometres to go to the finish-line, the peloton was all together once again.
A last minute attack by the quartet of Daniel Fodor (Denmark Blue Water Cycling), Michael Northey (Britain Node 4 Giordana), Stuart Wight (Canada National Team) and Joseph Kelly (Great Britain National Team) was quickly swallowed up by the main group and coming down the final straight, a huge effort by Bennett saw him lead the bunch sprint over the line.
This was the second career win on the race for Bennett and he was clearly overjoyed with the result.
“I’m delighted we got the stage win today. It was a superb team effort. Sean (Downey) rode up front for over 100 kilometres and put in a tremendous ride. That meant that the rest of us could sit in the bunch and attack at the right time. We kept right at the top and in contact with any breakaways and in the end it paid off”.
It is all to play for going into stage four tomorrow with eight riders in the general classification on the same time. Today’s King of the Mountains jersey went to Martin Hunal (Czech Republic Sparta Praha) with Michael Fitzpatrick (Tipperary Visit Nenagh.ie) taking the county rider jersey, and Samuel Harrison (Great Britain National Team) winning the Under-23 jersey.