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Roche 5th as Irish riders make good Algarve start

Posted 15 February 2012

By Cillian Kelly, 

Nicolas Roche got the Volta ao Algarve off to a flying start today when he finished fifth in the bunch sprint in Albufeira behind stage winner Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol).

The result was the best ever placing for an Irish rider in the Portuguese stage race which includes no less than four Irish riders this year.
An Post Sean Kelly team rider Ronan McLaughlin finished 66th on the stage conceding just seven seconds after the peloton split in a chaotic finish.

He was joined in second group by fellow Donegal man Philip Deignan who placed 89th as he made his debut for the American based United Healthcare team.

Conor McConvey make a welcome return to the An Post Sean Kelly team but the technical finish, which also caused a number of crashes, saw the Ulsterman lose 1’31”.

The 151 kilometre stage from Dunas Douradas was animated by a five-man group who broke clear after 20 kilometres of racing in the perfect Portuguese sunshine. 

The group included Roche's team-mate Mikael Cherel which allowed the AG2R-La Mondiale team to take a back seat as it was left to other teams to control the size of the gap from the leaders back to the bunch. 

The quintet were allowed a maximum gap of five minutes before the chase began, led primarily by the OmegaPharma-QuickStep team who have ambitions for the overall title in the shape of last year's winner Tony Martin.

The peloton came back together with 13 kilometres to go with Roche wasting no time in moving towards the head of the peloton as the narrow roads made for dangerous racing.

A spill inside the final six kilometres upset the rhythm and formation of the peloton and led to a number of splits.

Roche continued to occupy a safe place towards the head of the race where the An Post Sean Kelly team also made its presence felt.

The former Irish champion produced a strong sprint finish to take fifth place, a position he also now occupies overall, just 10 seconds behind Belgian leader Meersman after the application of time bonuses.

Another lumpy stage is on the cards tomorrow as the riders travel 187.5 kilometres from Faro to Lagoa. 

Two third category climbs in the second half of the stage and a slightly uphill finish should provide plenty of opportunity for the An Post Sean Kelly team to make an impression on the stage and for punchy riders such as Roche and Deignan to go for a stage victory.
Results:
Volta ao Algarve
Stage 1: Dunas Douradas - Albufeira, 151 kilometers

1.  Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto Belisol 4:02:17
2.  Greg van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
3.  Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank  
4.  Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM  
5.  Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale  
6.  Anthony Ravard (Fra) Ag2R-La Mondiale  
7.  Rui Costa (Por) Movistar  
8.  Michael van Stayen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator  
9.  Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky  
10. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan

5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale m.t.
66 Ronan McLoughlin (Irl) An Post Sean Kelly at 7 seconds
89. Philip Deignan (Irl) UnitedHealthcare - same time
141. Conor McConvey (Irl) An Post Sean Kelly at 1 minute, 31 seconds

An Post Sean Kelly Team:

65. Pieter Ghyllebert (Bel) at 7 seconds
66. Ronan McLoughlin (Ire) m.t.
128. Mark Christian (Gbr) m.t.
131. Gediminas Bagdonas (Ltu) at 40 seconds
133. Niels Wytinck (Bel) at 58 seconds
141. Conor McConvey (Irl) at 1 minute, 41 seconds
142. Niko Eeckhout at 1 minute, 51 seconds
157 Joren Segers (Bel) at 12 minutes, 51 seconds

General classification after stage 1:

1.  Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto Belisol 4:02:07
2.  Greg van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:04
3.  Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank 0:00:06
4.  Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:00:10
5.  Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale  
6.  Anthony Ravard (Fra) Ag2R-La Mondiale  
7.  Rui Costa (Por) Movistar  
8.  Michael van Stayen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator  
9.  Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky  
10. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan

5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale at 10 seconds
65 Ronan McLoughlin (Irl) An Post Sean Kelly at 17 seconds
88. Philip Deignan (Irl) UnitedHealthcare - same time
141. Conor McConvey (Irl) An Post Sean Kelly at 1 minute, 41 seconds
An Post Sean Kelly Team:

64. Pieter Ghyllebert (Bel) at 17 seconds
65. Ronan McLoughlin (Ire) m.t.
127. Mark Christian (Gbr) m.t.
131. Gediminas Bagdonas (Ltu) at 40 seconds
133. Niels Wytinck (Bel) at 58 seconds
141. Conor McConvey (Irl) at 1 minute, 41 seconds
142. Niko Eeckhout (Bel) at 1 minute, 51 seconds
157. Joren Segers (Bel) at 12 minutes, 51 seconds

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