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M. Donnelly Junior Tour of Ireland - NE

Ireland, August 3-8, 2004

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Stage 5 - August 7: Youghal - Youghal, 53 miles

Stannard holds on

By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent

Ian Stannard of the Great Britain team held on to the overall lead after today's fifth stage of the M. Donnelly Junior Tour in Youghal, Co. Cork. He also came tantalisingly close to letting his grip slide on an event where he was regarded as a favourite with two stages remaining.

"I was happy to have come through Friday's stage around Sean Kelly country," said Ian as he headed back to base in Waterford and a good rest before dinner. "Today I was happy for the first part of the race. I was okay in the rain, but when we turned for Youghal and the home stretch and with the cross winds, causing problems, things started to go askew. I just put my head down and chased, and the group I was in was happy to leave me and the team out front. Still in the end I cut my losses and I am still in yellow. That's what bike racing is all about."

With the rain falling when the riders set out from the start, they took off at a gingerly pace and it looked as though they were going through the motions. Then at the first KOM of the day at Lombards it kicked into action with 20 participants losing contact with the leader in that discipline, Robert Gesink going over in first place to consolidate his place. He also led over the next KOH at Tallow Hill, 15 miles into the stage.

Unfortunately for the Points Jersey leader Roderick Muscat, who is from Malta but competing with a Belgian team, he crashed on the approach to the prime and it took him a further six miles to make the junction to the main field. But the effort and the crash eventually denied him a further stint in the Green Jersey.

With the principals still in contention it looked as though the overnight leader Stannard and his team had everything under control. Completing one part of the loop before the race headed back to Youghal, everything was rosy in the garden as far as Stannard was concerned. Then on the approach to Dungarvan, a group of ten just slipped off the head of the bunch, and before anyone realised the significance of the break, time gaps stated to open up.

For a time Stannard's GB team was unperturbed by the turn of events which marginalized him from his lofty perch at the top of the leaderboard.

With five miles remaining, panic set in when he realised that he could be today's man and rallied his team around him to cut back the deficit. The apparent injection of speed caught the majority, who had visions of making it to the finishing line intact, in limbo. Once detached from the shelter of the bunch and with a side wind causing all sorts of problems, the chasers upped the pace. It was noticeable that the GB boys and the South Africans were attempting to retrieve time on the leaders.

Victory in the stage went to Geraint Thomas from Wales, who has recently returned from Los Angeles were he was successful on the track. Just missing out on giving the home brigade something to shout about was Ciaran Kelly representing Ireland Stena Line with the South African Jacob Venter in third place.

Stannard saved the day, but tomorrows's final stage will not be a procession as the top are within 15 seconds of winning a JT which has some notable names on the trophy, including that of Mark Scanlon who won back in 1998. Whereas he should have done and dusted the business today, Stannard has now to contend with five participants who are breathing down his neck. The GB boys were really extended today. Arjen de Batt of Holland is back in the frame and as a former leader of the JT, could cause some anxious moments. Mark Nestor has certainly given a ray of hope to the Ireland Stena Team and his 15 seconds is not insurmountable, but the dice will have to fall in his favour.

Tomorrow's stage is a relatively short one just over 40 miles, with a start from New Ross to the finish in Waterford. Start time is 11 o'clock to facilitate the opportunity for some to view the hurling encounter in Croke Park.

Results

1 Geraint Thomas (Wales)          2.03.02
2 C. Kelly (Ireland)
3 J. Venter (South Africa)
4 A. de Batt (Holland)
5 M. Nestor (Ireland)
6 R. Gesink (Holland)

General classification after stage 5

1 I. Stannard (Great Britain)     8.37.15
2 R. Gesink (Holland)                0.06
3 P. Williams (Team North West BCF)  0.08
4 H. Pieter (South Africa)           0.14
4 A. de Batt (Holland)
6 M. Nestor (Ireland)                0.15

Points classification

1 R. Gesink (Holland) 

Mountains classification

1 R. Gesink (Holland)

Teams classification

1 Holland