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Dublin: -2°C Sunday 11 April 2021
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Roche struggles to find form as Martin takes victory in Paris-Nice

Cillian Kelly looks at the performance of the Irish riders and teams over the weekend, including a fourth-place finish for An Post-Sean Kelly’s Niko Eeckhout.

Overall winner Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) takes victory in Saturday's time trial in Paris-Nice.
Overall winner Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) takes victory in Saturday's time trial in Paris-Nice.
Image: LAURENT CIPRIANI/AP/Press Association Images

PARIS-NICE CAME to its conclusion yesterday as the German Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) took the overall win. The final stage was won by Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), his second stage win of the race.

The race is often referred to as ‘The Race to the Sun” due to its route which starts in the north of France, where the weather is traditionally poor at this time of year, and ends up on the Mediterranean coast where the sun is invariably shining.

This year however, it was the opposite as the opening stages were remarkably sunny, while the closing stages were wet, windy and miserable.

The foul weather didn’t seem to effect former Rás winner Tony Martin as he defended the race lead which he had gained after winning the Stage Six time trial. Martin is a renowned time trial specialist and the presence on the route of a 27km test against the clock afforded him the opportunity to win this prestigious stage race.

But a race route which was perfect for Martin was far from perfect for cycling fans. The race organisers included the longest time trial for over 40 years and did not include any summit finishes. This led to the specialist chrono men riding defensively before and after the time trial in the hopes of overall success. Consequently, the final podium was made up of Tony Martin, Andreas Kloden (Team RadioShack) and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), all time trial specialists and all of whom did not attack once throughout the entire race.

As the G.C. men marked each other to a standstill, the race was instead animated by stage hunters such as Voeckler, Remy di Gregorio (Astana) and Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil). Race organisers ASO may think twice before including such a long time trial in next year’s race.


Nicolas Roche had a quiet week in Paris-Nice. He found himself in 40th place overall after Stage Six but decided to abandon the race during the following day’s stage as the weather took a hideous turn. Roche’s next race is likely to be the Volta a Catalunya starting on the 21st March as he continues his search for form having recovered from an early-season knee injury.

Eeckhout impresses

The An Post-Sean Kelly team had two squads in action yesterday in two different Belgian one-day races. An eight-man team, led by Niko Eeckhout took part in the Omloop van het Waasland. This is a race which Eeckhout won three times in a row between 2006 and 2008 while he was riding for the Topsport Vlaanderen team. Unfortunately, this time around Eeckhout could only manage fourth place, but still a good result for both rider and team.

Eeckhout, Andrew Fenn, Mark McNally, Pieter Ghyllebert and Philip Lavery all tried their luck in breaking away from the peloton throughout the day. Each time the peloton reeled them back in and ultimately the race was decided in a bunch sprint which was won by Aidis Kruopis (Landbouwkrediet). Eeckhout still had enough energy in the tank to finish fourth which was his fourth top 10 placing of the year. Lavery ended the race in 51st position.

The performance of his riders was very pleasing to An Post-Sean Kelly team manager Kurt Bogaerts:

Niko was brilliant again this week, but I’m more satisfied with how well the team raced. We were involved in most of the attacks in the race and overall we rode really aggressively today. That is what our tactics have been since the start of the season and we have got the results we deserve in the last couple of races.

The other half of the An Post-Sean Kelly team, including Irish riders Sam Bennett, Mark Cassidy and Ronan McLaughlin were all competing in the Kattekoers which started in the Flandrian city of Deinze and ended in Ypres. This is a minor national level event which, remarkably, was won by Niko Eeckhout way back in 1992 as a 21 year-old. The race was won this year by Jonas Vangenechten (Wallonie – Bruxelles) who finished at the head of a nine-man breakaway just ahead of the peloton.

The next outing for the An Post-Sean Kelly team will be the Nokere Koerse semi-classic on Wednesday.

Eastern promise

On the other side of the world, the Jelajah Malaysia race (Tour of Malaysia) also came to its conclusion yesterday. The Giant Kenda Cycling team were present with Irish riders David McCann and Ryan Sherlock on board.

McCann was the reigning champion of this race having topped the General Classification in 2010. This past week, the Ulsterman finished in the front group on each of the first five stages which meant he was in 20th place on G.C., just 20 seconds behind the leader before yesterday’s final stage.

McCann put in an excellent performance as he was active at the front of the race for most of the day. But unfortunately, he was unable to shake his nearest G.C. rival Mehdi Sohrabi. The current Asian champion won the stage finishing just two seconds ahead of McCann as both riders finished almost a minute and a half ahead of everyone else.

As such, the overall victory also fell to Sohrabi, with McCann ending the race in second place overall, 29 seconds back. Ryan Sherlock, who maintained a video blog during the race, ended up in 40th place.

The next race for the Giant Kenda Cycling team will be the ten-day Tour of Taiwan which starts this Saturday where David McCann will once again start as defending champion.

Read more of Cillian Kelly’s racing column here >

About the author:

Cillian Kelly  / Twitter: @irishpeloton

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