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Junior Tour of Ireland - NE
Waterford, Ireland, August 6-11, 2002
Stage 5 - August 10: Kilkenny Road, Waterford, 61 miles
Welshman Roach wins stage 5 of M Donnelly Junior Tour
By Shane Stokes, Irishcycling.com
Talented eighteen-year old cyclist Nicolas Roche today moved to within one stage of winning the M. Donnelly Junior Tour when he successfully defended the lead on the penultimate day of the race. With just tomorrow's circuit race remaining, the French-based Irishman looks set to join Aidan Duff, Mark Scanlon and Kieran Page as the only riders in the event's 25 year history to lead the race from start to finish.
Today's fifth leg of the M. Donnelly Junior Tour was won by his namesake Steven Roach of Wales, who went clear as part of a seven-man group in the closing stages of the fast, flat 61 mile race. Collaborating to open up a decisive lead over the main bunch, the septet raced towards the finish outside Waterford, where Roach went clear with Steffan Wilson of the North West Division team and outsprinted the British national junior champion in the uphill dash to the line.
The aggressive finish was a fitting end to a stage which was characterised by relentless attacking from the off. Seeking to test the legs of his main rivals, Nicolas Roche threw down the gauntlet after just 8 miles and raced clear on the wide, sweeping dual carriageways towards Carrick on Suir. The race leader quickly opened a five second gap on the main bunch, but sat up and waved his arms in exasperation as some of the Stena-Ireland team closed him down.
The gesture stemmed from Roche's complaint that the national squad had been too quick to chase him all week, thus making things easy for the Dutch riders that he felt had been too willing to follow wheels. 'The Irish team are straight onto me every time I move - they should be leaving it to the Dutch to do some of the work', he said afterwards.
Roche tried again to go clear 2 miles later and got a gap, but was chased down by four riders, including Páidí O'Brien of the Stena Ireland team. Shortly afterwards, the yellow jersey was forced to stop with a broken spoke and, surprisingly, O'Brien dropped back to help his main rival back on. The action prompted complaints of collusion after the stage, but most observers believed that the gesture was a sporting one, and which looked to have been acknowledged when Roche did not sprint for the top of the KOM prime 7 miles later.
First to the top was Dutch rider Rudi Van Houts, who had bolted from the main field before the climb, and opened up a short-lived lead. The Tempo BMV Veldhoven rider tried again shortly afterwards, and O'Brien too attempted to go clear, but the main field closed down every attack.
The elastic finally snapped 13 miles from the finish when Jean Baptiste Combes (VC La Pomme) sparked off a seven man breakaway. With District Noord Holland rider Levi Heimans the highest placed over a minute and a half back, Roche and his team had room for manoeuvre and the hard-working septet opened a stage-winning lead.
The escapees worked well together until three miles to go, then the focus turned to attacking each other for the win. Heimans and Roach forged clear inside the final mile to open a four second lead, with the latter succeeding in dropping the Dutchman on an uphill drag shortly afterwards. But it was the British national champion Wilson who looked to have the upper hand when he bridged across to the leader, only to go to the front too early and be easily outsprinted to the line.
Forty-seven seconds later Roche reached the finish as part of the main bunch, having been forced to chase hard with his two team-mates in order to limit the gains of the escapees and thus preserve his lead overall.
In addition to retaining his yellow jersey, Roche remains in pole position in the lead of the King of the Mountains classification. However Stena Ireland rider Páidí O'Brien has moved to within one point of this total after his second place on the KOH prime. The outcome of this contest will be decided over three climbs tomorrow.
'I am quite tired after riding so hard today', stated Roche afterwards. 'Myself and my team-mates had to chase really hard near the finish as no other team would ride when that break went clear. It was a bit frustrating that it was left up to us, but we have just one stage left to get through and then we can have a good rest.'
'I had a go in the first few miles of the stage as I wanted to put pressure on the other teams and see how the Irish team would react. I was a bit annoyed that they led the chase rather than letting the Dutch riders work. I broke a spoke a few miles later when we were going through Carrick On Suir…I was a bit worried as the bunch was lined out at the time as Páidí was attacking. My team-mates came back for me, then I got a nice surprise to see that Páidí was also hanging back. It was very nice of him to do that.'
'Hopefully everything will go well tomorrow. This is a good race and would be an very important win for me.'
The 2002 M. Donnelly Junior Tour concludes tomorrow with a 44 mile circuit race, starting at the Waterford Crystal Sports and Leisure Centre and taking in three laps of a rolling course.
Páidí O'Brien (Stena Ireland) 8th overall, 2nd in the Grant Thornton King of the Mountains classificiation: 'I tried to close the gap today in the mountains competition so that I can go for it tomorrow. There was only one prime today but three are left, so I have a chance.'
On waiting for Nicolas Roche: 'I was attacking at the time when somebody came up to me and said that Nicolas had to stop. I thought "dammit", I don't want to be the guy attacking the yellow jersey when he is having a problem with his bike, so I went back and waited for him to get back up.'
Martin Donnelly, race sponsor: 'I really enjoy cycling, I do some myself but just some leisure stuff. I always admired cyclists such as Kelly and Roche and am delighted to be in a position to sponsor cycling and the Junior Tour. I hope to do so for the next few years as it really is a great race.'
Mel Sutcliffe (Eurotrek/Raleigh Ireland), sponsor of the yellow and blue points jersey: 'We are delighted to be associated with the race as it is very important for Irish cycling. It is great to see the effort put in by everyone concerned - the riders, the race organisers and everyone else here with the event. That is what makes it so special'.
1 Steven Roach (Wales) 2.23.6 2 S. Wilson (North West Division) 2 3 L. Heimans (District Noord Holland) 3 4 M. M. Debour (Districk Noord Holland) 10 5 J. Baptiste Combes (VC La Pomme) 12 6 I. Ormond (Trinity Biotech Bray) 14 7 A. Christie (North West Division) 24 8 J. Van Leijen (Tempo BMV Veldhoven) 47 KOH Prime 1 Rudi Van Houts (Tempo BMV Veldhoven) 2 P. O'Brien (Stena Ireland) 3 N. Roche (Team Stephen Roche)