Kanturk cyclist Eddie Dunbar secures first pro win by an Irishman in eight years

Highly-rated 25-year-old made a breakthrough in the Italian Coppi e Bartali
Kanturk cyclist Eddie Dunbar secures first pro win by an Irishman in eight years

Eddie Dunbar of Ireland and Team INEOS Grenadiers, White Leader Jersey, celebrates at finishing line in Italy. Picture: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

EDDIE Dunbar has become the first Irishman to win a professional stage race in eight years after he claimed the five-day Coppi e Bartali in Italy.

The 25-year-old from Kanturk withstood repeated attacks by those closest to him on the General Classification but held firm to notch a career-best result.

Not since the recently-retired Nicolas Roche won the Route de Sud in 2014 has an Irishman been victorious at the end of a stage race, the cycling term given to events lasting more than one day.

"I’ve been on the team a few years now and everyone knows how much this means to me, it's like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders," he said afterwards.

"I knew I could be up there in races, GC-wise and I said, 'once I get a good run I can be good enough to contest these races'. Everything fell into place this week and it's a relief.

"The guys did a super job all week - they rode really well. We rode the stage today and controlled it from start to finish, it was great.

"I was grateful to all of the guys for believing in me and backing me these last few days to stick in there and it’s nice to finally get a win and show how grateful I am to them, and all the staff too."

Dunbar began the day just nine seconds ahead of his nearest challenger - his 20-year old INEOS Grenadiers teammate Ben Tulett.

Half dozen others began the day within a minute of Dunbar.

It all made for a tense and drama-filled final day of racing over 160 hilly kilometres, which Dunbar and his team controlled magnificently.

The team included former Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas who did some Trojan work in reeling in a threatening breakaway that animated the stage.

Approaching the finish, Dunbar was still very much to the fore and though he had to be vigilant to a number of stinging attacks he was equal to anything thrown at him.

QuickStep Alpha Vinyl notched a memorable 1-2 for stage honours with Josef Cerny and Remi Cavagna coming home alone, as the battle for the overall title waged behind them.

Dunbar crossed the line alongside those closest him on the standings, and did enough to claim a career milestone.

His talent has long been known to keen observers of the sport but his six years as a professional rider have not been straightforward, with injuries and bad luck often robbing him of the chance to show his full potential.

He had no such issues this week in Italy, however, as some truly brilliant performances coupled with a little luck and a very strong team ensured he claimed the overall win.

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