Max Stedman delivered a brave challenge to the yellow jersey on a thrilling Queen stage of the Rás Tailteann on Saturday.
The 22-year-old Canyon Eisberg climber finished shortly after the 16-man group of race leader Cyrille Thiery following the gruelling 141km battle from Carlow to Naas.
Julian Varley, of Team KTM, clinched a solo victory after attacking on the eighth and final KOM of Wicklow Gap.
But his success, by a handful of seconds, was not enough to wrest the yellow jersey from the shoulders of Thiery.
Meanwhile Stedman, who had clipped off in pursuit of Varley on Wicklow Gap, was reeled in by the Swiss race leader in the closing kilometres before finishing 25th on the run in to Naas.
Had Stedman made the junction with Varley he would no doubt have been sitting in the podium positions this evening.
But the University of Exeter talent, who slid to 23rd on general classification at 3min 31sec, and his team-mates can be proud of their efforts in pursuit of the crown.
Only 128 of the 154 riders who set out from Drogheda last Sunday began the penultimate stage in Carlow, with Matt Nowell and Dexter Gardias among those to withdraw.
However, their team-mate Rory Townsend delivered a statement of intent as he jumped clear after 25km.
The escape group numbered 12 when they hit the opening KOM, that of Ballythomas Hill, after 41km of racing.
Jelly Belly’s Taylor Shelden crested first but the breakaway was reeled in on the subsequent category three Monalea before a much-depleted peloton began the day’s third ascent at Annagh Gap.
It was here that Stedman took his chance and alongside Townsend the pair eased clear with seven companions.
Robert John McCarthy, of the Ireland squad, Holdsworth’s Conn McDunphy, Saint Piran’s Jake Alderman and the mountains jersey of Jelly Belly’s Ulises Castillo were there.
They were joined by Daniel Bichlmann, from the German Bike Aid squad, Adriaan Janssen, of Delta Cycling, and the Swiss former KOM leader Lukas Ruegg.
Cork Strata 3’s Simon Ryan and Saint Piran’s Cameron Jeffers attempted to jump across but failed as the leaders held a 45-second gap on the run to the category three Cronebeg.
Peter Kibble, from the Wales Racing Academy, bridged on the climb before Ruegg collected maximum points at the summit to add to his wins on Monalea and Annagh Gap.
At this point, the leaders had eased clear by around two minutes as they set sail for the category two Garrymore test.
But once they had navigated that challenge, a determined chase from the peloton reduced their advantage to just 30 seconds on the approach to the category one Drumgoff.
That injection of pace tore the peloton to shreds, while up front Townsend, Castillo and McCarthy were distanced towards the summit.
A select yellow jersey group finally caught Stedman & Co as the race began its ascent of Wicklow Gap – the day’s second category one climb.
Early attacks on the footslopes merely served to soften the bunch and thin out some of the weaker climbers.
Varley, of KTM, was the first to push on towards the summit, with just 15 riders left in the chase group.
Stedman took his chance to clip off in pursuit, dragging Cycling Leinster’s Mark Dowling with him as they tried to catch the lone leader.
The pair trailed Varley by 40 seconds at the summit but had put half a minute into the yellow jersey group.
With 15km of the stage remaining, the KTM man still held a 75-second advantage over the group of Swiss race leader Thiery with Stedman sandwiched in between.
The yellow jersey was doing all the chasing at this stage. And making little impression as Stedman and Dowling slid back to join that group.
Varley, who began the day at 45 seconds, still held a lead of more than a minute when he powered inside 10km to go.
He was still clinging on to the virtual yellow jersey when he entered the final 5km, albeit by the small matter of a few seconds.
Thiery had regained control with 3km to go but there was no doubt in the stage winner, with Varley hanging on my a matter of seconds to toast glory.
Belgian Robbe Ghys won the bunch kick from the 16-strong chase group to retain his lead in the under-23 classification.
Ruegg, meanwhile, did enough to reclaim the mountains jersey from Castillo with Stedman moving into third position.
Louis Rose-Davies, 19, in his first race of this duration, understandably showed signs of tiredness on day seven but battled on to finish 23 minutes down.
Continuing his racing education, the first-year professional will become a “man of the Ras” should he complete Sunday’s final stage.
Click here for the final result of stage seven.
Five category three climbs punctuate the 145km eighth and final stage from Naas to Skerries on Sunday (midday).
The final two arrive within the closing 25km of action, offering a last springboard to glory for one of the challengers.