Freak accident halts battle for yellow

The day looked set to be marked by a new race leader but instead it was defined by a big crash between several riders and an oncoming vehicle, plus the cancellation of the stage result.

For the first time in the 58-year history of the FBD Insurance Rás, a stage was neutralised and no restart given. The chief commissaire's decision was taken shortly after a collision on the descent of Bellavalley Gap, where at least six riders went down and several fractures occurred.

Three competitors from the Spanish Burgos 2016-Castilla y Leon team plus an Italian rider with the Japan - Nippo squad were badly hurt and taken to hospital after the dramatic incident, which occurred 30km from the finish between Dundalk and Carrick on Shannon.

Details were sketchy but most reports on Monday suggested that a jeep drove onto the course from a laneway or driveway, arriving just after the police motorbikes had swept by, but before the riders sped down the descent.

This vehicle hit several riders head on, with these being thrown up in the air and one going over a hedge. One competitor broke his leg and lost the top of his finger, but it is expected to be able to reattached. Another fractured a leg, while a third suffered bad lacerations.

Race leader Dan Craven (Rapha Condor Sharp) had looked set to lose his yellow jersey after closest challenger Mark McNally (An Post Grant Thornton M. Donnelly Sean Kelly) infiltrated a long-distance break and built a two-minute lead.

He will now hold onto it, but said that he would rather have lost it than riders have been affected by the crash.

As regards the neutralisation of the race, Craven is sure it was a good thing. "It might sound controversial for me to say this because at the time it looked like I might lose the yellow jersey, but even if I wasn't wearing it, I definitely would have supported the neutralisation of the stage," he said.

"I spoke to quite a few riders in the bunch and every one of them agreed with it, except for one who was grumbling a bit.

"An accident like that is such a freak thing. It is such an unusual circumstance that you do neutralise it. I think it is completely correct."

Craven said that he was perilously close to crashing himself. "Six guys went down, and I was actually in seventh position. I was the first guy who didn't fall," he indicated, pointing to light abrasions on his leg caused by a glancing blow. "Some riders went over the top of the jeep. That's why the race had to be stopped, as you have to make sure the riders are okay and alive in a situation like that."

Until about 30km to go, today's stage of the FBD Insurance Rás looked set to bring about a change in the yellow jersey, with a large number of riders almost certain to stay clear until the finish in Carrick on Shannon.

The key move had gone after 75km and saw 2008 FBD Rás champion Stephen Gallagher (Sigmasport Specialised) plus several other Irish riders combining with strong international competitors to build a decent lead. They were later joined by several others, including McNally, and the break had swelled to 23 riders by the time it reached Bellavalley Gap.

Irishman Stephen O'Sullivan took the prime there and with a lead of two minutes, it looked almost certain that the break would stay clear and the race lead would change. However everything changed in an instant, with the freak accident stopping the race in its tracks.

McNally initially seemed annoyed at the finish, unhappy at missing out on taking the yellow jersey, but upon reflection he agreed that it was the best thing to do. "It is disappointing, you could see the jersey being there at the end of the day," he said. "But the most important thing is that the riders are okay."

The race will resume tomorrow with a 171km leg to Oughterard.

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