Slovenian Borut Bozic of the LPR team galloped out of a heaving peloton to win Friday's third stage of the Tour of Ireland as the race reached Ennis.
First year professional Bozic took his third win of the season when he held off T-Mobile's Bernhard Eisel, Max Richeze of Panaria and former Tour De France green jersey winner Baden Cooke (Unibet.com) on the line. The leader's jersey still remains on the shoulders of Cooke's teammate Stijn Vandenbergh.
"Tomorrow is going to be a long day," said Vandenbergh. "But I hope it be like today with a group going away that will not be a challenge for the overall lead and if it finishes in a group we have Baden Cooke for the sprint. Today it was good that CSC road for Breschel (Matti) and T-Mobile for Eisel (Bernhard). We don't need to go on the attack tomorrow. We can follow the guys high up in the classification."
Cooke attacked into the final corner with 300 metres to go, couldn't hold out and was overtaken by the podium finishers at the line. "I didn't know how far out the last corner was exactly," said the Aussie. "My motto is, if in doubt, hit out. I got into a good rhythm and then slammed it into the 11 about 100 metres out and almost stopped. Unfortunately it was 50 metres too long for me today and I got swallowed up."
"The reason we race bikes is to win. Plus... we all need contracts at the end of the year."
Baden Cooke (Unitbet.com)
Stage winner Bozic was delighted with his first victory in the company of the top sprinters: "Yesterday my team rode really well for me into Killarney and I just had a very bad position. I made a mistake. Today I didn't make a mistake. Last year I won 11 races, but this year I have only three. It's my first year as a professional and the racing here is much higher standard, much faster. Today I was the fastest and I am very happy!"
An early six man breakaway group went clear at Ballybunnion after just 50kms of the 194kms stage from Killarney to Ennis. Containing Mexican Moises Chavez (Panaria), Denis Van Winden (Rabobank), America's Patrick McCartney (Slipstream), Norwegian sprinter Edvald Boassen Hagen (Maxbo-Bianchi) and Australian duo Ben Day (Navigators) and Zakkari Dempster (AIS), this sextet looked like staying away when they built up a lead of almost six minutes on the main peloton.
But with the CSC, LPR, T-Mobile and Plowman Craven squads intent on a mass sprint finish, the leaders were back in the fold with eight kilometres remaining.
With eight riders within 43 seconds of his yellow jersey, race leader Vandenbergh and his Unibet team face their biggest challenge of the Tour when the race starts and ends in Galway this morning, tacking in a scenic but rugged 232kms loop through the Connemara mountains. Despite losing Jonas Ljunglad to a crash where his hand went into his wheel, yesterday, Baden Cooke still thinks the soon to be defunct team can win the Tour outright.
"I think the tactic we used today was a good one," Cooke said. "Yesterday we tried to chase everything and really got smashed. Today we let it go and after we got the chase started later one, we rode for about 50kms and stopped."
Cooke is adamant that the squad will fight for the victory, despite the fact that the team will disappear from the sport at the end of the year. "We're not riding on the front for the fun of it," he added. "I think we can do it. Stijn seems to be stronger than Ljungvist and Olsen in the hills. We're all mates. Stan has helped me this season, so I'm more than happy to help him. I think we can take it all the way to the end. The reason we race bikes is to win. Plus... we all need contracts at the end of the year."