Pinarello CandiTv rider Russell Downing jumped from eighth to first the general classification at the Tour of Ireland today, moving into the race lead when he won the hilly fourth stage.
In doing so the British Premier Calendar winner landed what was probably the best result of his career, and closed to within one day of winning the 2.1-ranked international event.
The thirty year-old Pinarello CandiTV out-sprinted Gonzalo Rabunal (Karpin Galicia), mountains leader Matthew Wilson (Team Type 1) and twenty others to the line in Dingle. Overnight race leader Mark Cavendish (Columbia) lost contact with the front runners approximately 45 kilometres from the finish, slipping backwards on the category one climb of the Conor Pass and eventually finishing eight minutes 35 seconds back.
Once he was gone, New Zealand's Julian Dean (Garmin Chipotle - H30) became race leader on the road. He had started in Limerick this morning in second place overall and his team rode strongly to try to put him into yellow. Magnus Bäckstedt joined Wesley Sulzberger (SouthAustralia.com/AIS) and Peter Williams (Pinarello CandiTV) in an early break, forcing Cavendish's team to chase. Then, once the Manx rider was dropped, David Millar drove hard after the big climb to further distance him and to help Dean's chances.
The plan was foiled by Downing, who had started the day twelve seconds behind Dean but picked up a chunk of time bonuses via two intermediate sprint wins plus the stage victory. He finished up two seconds clear of his Kiwi rival and a further nine ahead of Wilson.
It is the latest result in a strong season for the Britain-based rider, who won three stages of the Cinturón Ciclista a Mallorca plus a host of Premier Calendar races.
Mark Cassidy was best Irish rider on the stage, finishing two minutes, four seconds adrift in 28th place. An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team-mate Stephen Gallagher was three places and two minutes, six seconds further back.
Cassidy is now 24th in the general classification, two minutes, 22 seconds away from the race lead.
The 2.1-ranked race concludes tomorrow with a tough stage from Killarney to Cork. The 144-kilometre leg takes in four ascents of the feared St. Patrick's Hill and could well shake up the general classification once more. Seventeen riders are within eighteen seconds or less of Downing, keeping things very much up in the air and ensuring that the final winner will remain undecided right until the end.
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.