Roscommon rocket Daire Feeley became the first Irish winner of Rás Tailteann since 2008 when he crossed the line safely in the middle of the peloton in Blackrock, Co Louth, yesterday, a handful of seconds behind stage-winner Kevin McCambridge of the UK-based Trinity Racing team.
eeley, riding for the Cork All Human-Velo Revolution county team, took over the race lead on Friday’s mountainous third stage to Lisdoonvarna and nobody was able to match him since.
“I knew I could win it today but there was always that ‘what if?’” he said afterwards.
“I’ve seen situations unfold before in the big races where things go wrong on the last day and I was anticipating that a bit this morning.”
The 25-year-old from Mote Park held a 54-second lead over British rider Louis Sutton going into yesterday’s final stage.
After his county squad controlled things for much of the stage, the race leader actually went on the attack on the finishing circuit in the sunny seaside town, going clear with McCambridge, Archie Ryan of the Irish national team and British rider William Perrett, who was guesting for the Dublin Spellman Port squad.
“To be honest I thought there would be an ambush somewhere along the road today, but thankfully the lads kept it together up until the circuits and everyone started racing then. It was funny to find myself up the road on the circuits,” said Feeley.
“I just jumped on to a wheel and when I looked behind to see what was going on I decided to give it a go and see what happened. That took the pressure off the lads behind and allowed them to save their legs if I needed them towards the finish line.”
This lead quartet held a slender gap of around 25 seconds for the first four laps of the 10km circuit, before McCambridge sensed the danger behind and jumped clear just as the peloton began to close in.
A superb last 10km saw the 20-year-old from Cushendall, Co Antrim, hold off the peloton single-handedly to claim the biggest victory of his career so far, one that was made all the sweeter by the fact his early season was ruined by a crash in Belgium that left him with two broken wrists and concussion.
“It’s unbelievable really,” said McCambridge as he fought back tears. “The last few years have been so hard, just injury after injury. I’ve been fighting so hard. But as the stages went on here I’ve felt stronger and stronger and today was my day. My fitness isn’t fully there yet but I’m in the best place mentally I’ve been in a long, long time and the legs were there today.
“When I was with the other three guys I didn’t think the pace was strong enough so I just went solo,” he said.
“At first I didn’t think I could do it but I gave it everything I had. There were a lot of emotions going through the head coming to the line. It’s unbelievable to get the win.”
Just three seconds later, Matthew Teggart of Ulster took the bunch sprint for second ahead of Matteo Cigala (Carlow Dan Morrissey), while Feeley crossed the line, arms aloft, in the middle of the pack surrounded by his team-mates to take the first Irish victory in the Rás for 14 years.
“I don’t have any words for that at this moment in time,” said the affable Roscommon man. “As of now it’s an incredible feeling. Just to finish the Rás is a big achievement for a lot of people but then to go on and win the Rás, I can’t put it into words.”
Feeley was quick to thank to his All Human-Velo Revolution team-mates for the work they put in over the last three days to keep him in yellow as well as team principal Aidan Crowley and all of the staff.
“Richard Maes, Tim O’Regan, Mark Dowling, the three older guys on our team, between them they have 50 years of racing,” he said. “They have plenty of experience and plenty of knowledge and Vlad Evseev, who has just stepped up to the top level of cycling here in Ireland, put in a massive effort for us. Without the four of those lads, and the lads in the background, this would not have happened.
“I won the race. I crossed the line with the fastest time overall, but this was a huge team effort and without them I would not be wearing this yellow jersey and taking it home with me.”
Although leading both the overall and mountains competition going in to the final stage, Feeley didn’t contest the last two climbs yesterday, meaning Dean Harvey of the Irish national team took home the polka dot jersey of best climber.
Having finished second overall, English 20-year-old Sutton (Spain Brocar Ale) took home the white jersey of best U-23 overall, but it was a very good week for Irish riders with four stage wins, courtesy of Adam Ward (Ireland), Rory Townsend (Ireland), Teggart (Ulster) and McCambridge (Trinity Racing), with Townsend also winning the points classification.
Feeley went home with the overall county rider award, his team won the county team classification and, of course, he had that yellow jersey of overall winner to bring home too.
“It hasn’t set in really,” said 25-year-old Feeley. “This is going to take some time to digest. This completes cycling for me. Whatever happens after this, my cycling career has been a huge success.”