A short, sharp sprint put Nelissen first over the finish line here and into the leader's colours by four seconds from the Australian, Phil Anderson. Roche rests 10 seconds in arrears, but full of intent, as he showed during the 112 miles from Dublin that took the field over the Cooley mountains.
The Dubliner, having tried one sortie with 13 others earlier, saw another possibility when the Dutchman, Eric Breukink, escaped on the three-mile climb that stands high above the border.
Undeterred by two earlier wheel changes, because of a puncture, Roche joined Breukink to forge a lead of 50 seconds, but in spite of a 55mph descent from the summit, headed by Roche, they were drawn back.
'I am feeling very strong but it is a case of spotting the right move,' Roche said. 'There is no harm however in not being to the fore at this moment.'
The Irishman's best performance over seven Classic years has been second place to the four-times winner, Sean Kelly, in 1987, and it is still a race he wants to win. As Roche raced after Breukink, Nelissen was struggling on the car-width climb. 'It was difficult, and I am not a climber,' he said. 'I was some 200 yards behind at the summit. However, team-mates helped me to close the gap.'
Nelissen will not be dismissed lightly. This was his 12th success of the season, which establishes the 22-year-old as the Belgian with the most wins this year.
They have all been earned by his finishing sprint, which yesterday snapped up the winner's bonus, a deduction from his race time which gave Nelissen his overall lead of four seconds.
NISSAN CLASSIC TOUR OF IRELAND (First stage, Dublin to Dundalk, 112 miles): 1 W Nelissen (Panasonic, Bel) 4hr 52min 30sec; 2 P Anderson (Motorola, Aus); 3 A van der Poel (Neth); 4 H Redant (Lotto, Bel); 5 R Alcala (PDM, Mexico); 6 W Engelbrecht (Southern Sun, SA) all same time. Selected: 12 S Kelly (Festina, Irl); 19 D Rayner (Buckler, GB); 20 R Holden; 21 B Smith (both Banana, GB); 24 M Earley (PDM, Irl); 27 E Breukink (PDM, Neth); 30 S Roche (Carrera, Irl); 37 S Yates (Motorola, GB) s/t. Overall: Nelissen 4hr 52min 20sec; 2 Anderson +4sec; 3 van der Poel +6; 4 Engelbrecht +7; 5 Earley s/t; 6 Redant +8. Selected: 14 Kelly +10; 20 Rayner; 21 Holden; 22 Smith; 27 Breukink; 30 Roche; 37 Yates s/t.Reuse content