Britain’s Elinor Barker (Team GB) justified her pre-event favourite’s status as she romped up Mount Leinster to win stage three of An Post Rás na mBan.
The 23-year-old from Cardiff waited until the lower slopes of Corrabut Gap inside the final five kilometres of the 107.4km stage to launch her winning bid and was soon racing solo to the stage win and the overall lead.
Barker had team-mate Mel Lowther in a breakaway group of nine which had a one-minute advantage on the approach to final five km but when the gradient gripped, the break disintegrated and Barker launched her bid.
The Olympic Team Pursuit gold medallist from Rio 2016 caught and passed all the breakaway riders by the summit of Corrabut Gap and the final 3.5km to Nine Stones was an exercise in accruing as big a lead as possible to take into tomorrow’s stage four time trial.
“It was a perfect day really,” said Barker. “It kind of went exactly how we were hoping it would. We’re generally pretty happy as a team.
“We were in a perfect position really in that we had Mel (Lowther) off the front with a group of strong riders and a few pretty good climbers who we were hoping would work really really hard and tire themselves out before the climb which I think is what happened because by the time I caught up to them they were looking pretty tired.
“I think they had all ridden pretty hard to the bottom of the climb so it was a perfect situation. I caught them with about two km before the first QoM and I hit it with about a kilometre to go and then just carried it on on the rest of the hill and got the stage win.”
Further down the hill, race leader Belle de Gast produced a stout defence of the leader’s An Post Pink jersey to finish 11th on the day but the Dutch rider eventually lost 2m 33s to slip to 11th overall.
Second across the line and racing into second overall was Sweden’s Alexandra Nessmar of Team Crescent DARE, 1m09s behind Barker and 18s in front of Natalie Grinczer (WNT) who was fourth on the day.
Laura Massey’s performance in finishing third in the stage has moved her up into fourth position, though the Rás na mBan regular visitor has ceded the lead of the Wicklow 200 Queen of the Mountains lead to Barker.
On a great day for Team GB, Mel Lowther survived to finish fifth after her efforts in the nine-rider breakaway and she now takes over the lead of the Women’s Cycling Ireland Young Rider competition.
Best of the Irish once again was Eve McCrystal (Garda CC) who was a delighted sixth on the stage and now lies sixth overall and in the lead of the Kilkenny County Council Best Irish Rider Classification.
She, like Barker, had kept her powder dry in the early stages, watching as Frenchwoman Noumié Abgrall (Team Breizh) went on the attack, the Breton forging a lead of over a minute before being reabsorbed.
A nine-rider group then formed out front including Lowther, Nessman, Ireland’s Josie Knight (Team WNT) and Lauren Creamer (NCC Kuota Torelli), Anna Christian (Isle of Man), Amanda Jamieson (Team CCN), Molly Patch (CC London), Joanne Thom (EDCO Continental), and Steph Mottram (NCC Kuota Torelli).
They worked well to establish a lead of 1m13s but with the climbs of Corrabut Gap and Mount Leinster coming in quick succession at the end, there was little they could do about Barker.
23-year-old Barker will defend her 1m09s lead in tomorrow’s fourth stage time trial over 11km on the Waterford Road in Kilkenny.
Tomorrow evening’s fifth stage is a one-hour city centre circuit race on a 2km circuit at Kilkenny Castle.
For full results see: http://www.rasnamban.com/news/stage-three-official-results/