By Andrew Hood
Sprints are always a question of timing. Go too soon, you might get caught. Wait too long, you’re sucking fumes.
A day after going too soon at the Tour of Ireland, Slovenian speedster Borut Bozic (LPR) timed it just right to pip a pair of ProTour boys in Friday’s undulating and windy 194km third stage from Tralee to Ennis.
The main pack roared in for a bunch sprint after a promising six-man break featuring Pat McCarty (Slipstream) and Ben Day (Navigators Insurance) was reeled in with less than 10km to go.
Baden Cooke (Unibet.com) bolted away with 300 meters to go on a rising right-hander and looked to have the win in his legs, but just as Bozic did in Thursday’s stage into Kilkenny, the Aussie sprinter had too itchy a trigger finger and was swarmed in the final 50 meters.
Bozic relegated Bernard Eisel (T-Mobile) to second as race leader Stijn Vandenbergh (Unibet.com) helped position Cooke for the sprint before finishing 46th in the main pack to retain the yellow jersey with just two days in the race.
“I was in fifth position for the sprint and waited a little longer today because (Thursday) I went too soon and I lost,” said Bozic, whose win gave the Italian continental team LPR a nice stage victory. “Today I waited and won. It was a pretty controlled stage and the speed was fast in the end.”
A steady headwind in the final 50km and a revved-up chase featuring Team CSC on the day’s main obstacle at the Cat. 3 Cahir Mountain at 155.5km doomed the chances for the McCarty-Day group.
It was another frenetic opening hour of racing as teams tried to push their men into what most thought would be a good day for a breakaway. Mostly clear skies blessed the Irish tour for the third day in a row.
There were several escape attempts as the course pushed along the exposed headlands where the wide-open Shannon River dumps into the western Atlantic.
A brisk northeasterly wind pummeled the 100-strong peloton when a motivated McCarty helped forge the day’s main move.
“I was under direct orders to get into a breakaway today. We got a good mix of guys and teams. We thought it would be a good day to have a break make it all the way,” said McCarty. “We were working together good, and we thought if it was a fast lead-in and guys didn’t get dumb and start attacking each other, we thought we’d have a chance.”
Joining McCarty and Day were Norwegian sprinter Edvald Boasson Hagen (Maxbo-Bianchi), Moises Aldape Chavez (Panaria-Navigare), Dennis Van Winden (Rabobank) and Zakkari Dempster (South Australia-AIS).
The sixsome collaborated well to build up a maximum gap of 5:38 as Unibet.com controlled the pace over the opening 120km, never letting the break get too far up the road.
Tail-crosswinds pushed the breakaway along nicely, but their chances were doomed when the course looped north and then west over the Cahir climb with 39km to go.
CSC — confident it could repeat its victory from Thursday with Matti Breschel — revved up the chase with Frank and Andy Schleck doing some of the heavy lifting on the Cat. 3 climb to trim the lead to under four minutes. The gap was clipped to two minutes with 25km to go and the move was squelched with about 9km to go as T-Mobile and CSC finished off the chase.
“There were false flats and a headwind — that’s murder for a break,” McCarty said.
The narrow roads also proved costly as at least one rider catapulted into a ditch after getting squeezed off the narrow approach into Ennis with about 5km to go.
CSC’s train was derailed in the final 2km as Unibet.com and LPR tried to muscle in on the action.
Cooke shot away first and opened up a nice gap, but went too early and opened the door for Bozic, fresh off winning the Tour of Wallonne Region race in Belgium. Maximiliano Richeze (Panaria-Navigare) came through third while Cooke drifted across the line fourth as Sergey Lagutin (Navigators Insurance) snuck into the top 10 with ninth.
Aaron Olson (T-Mobile) kept his third place on GC despite rolling across the line at 42 seconds off the pace. The American punctured late, but since it was within the final 3km he was awarded the same time as the main pack.
Valeriy Kobzarenko (Navigators Insurance) and Craig Lewis (Slipstream) finished safely in the bunch to keep their seventh and eighth places, respectively, in the top 10 overall at 28 seconds back.
Vandenbergh, meanwhile, retained his 20-second lead on Marcus Ljungqvist (CSC) going into Saturday’s 232.5km fourth stage across Ireland’s rugged Connemara region.
With exposed roads and steep hills, it will be CSC’s last chance to try to crack the young Belgian if they hope to try to wrestle away the leader’s jersey.
“It was okay today. We didn’t want the sprint to get too far off the front,” Vandenbergh said. “I’m feeling okay. Tomorrow will be hard, but I hope it’s the same like today. My legs are good. I am not too worried.”
Race notes: Jonas Ljungblad (Unibet.com) didn’t start, leaving 99 riders in the race … Matti Breschel (CSC) retained the green points jersey while Luis Pasamontes (Unibet.com) leads the King of the Mountains.