An Post New Boys Face Early Test

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Updated: January 28, 2011

The An Post cycling squad face a challenging start to 2011 as they take two different teams to compete in Europe and the Middle East at the same time over the coming weeks.
Races in France, Qatar and Oman present a great opportunity for the Belgian based side to showcase their talent on the world stage at the beginning of the cycling calendar year.

The upcoming races will see exciting young Irish prospect, Sam Bennett, take on elite level Pro Tour opposition in the Tours of Qatar and Oman. While fellow countryman, Philip Lavery, will start the season in France at this Sunday’s Grand Prix Cysliste la Marseillaise in France.

He starts the one-day race alongside Donegal native, Ronan McLaughlin and Belgians, Pieter Ghyllebert and Bjorn Brems. Completing the team are new members, Darijus Dzervus, Dries Hollanders, Kess Heytens and Kenny Terweduwe, who will all be making their debuts in Southern France.

The same squad will then take part in the first stage race of the season, the Etoile de Bességes, which takes place between the 3rd and 7th of February, also in France.

On the day before the Etoile de Bességes finishes a separate eight man team will be in another continent, lining up to take part in the Tour of Qatar (6th Feb – 11th Feb). Here they will line up against some of the top ProTeams and riders including Astana, Quick Step Cycling Team and Garmin-Cervélo.

The race will see Carrick-On-Suir native, Bennett, make his first start for the side. He joins team leader, Niko Eeckhout, together with Mark Cassidy, Mark McNally and Maxim De Busschere, as well as fellow debutants Andy Fenn, Kevin Claeys and Gediminas Begdonas.

Completing a busy opening few weeks for the team will be the second race in the gulf, the Tour of Oman, which runs from the 15th – 20th February. The only change to the side from the team that takes part in Qatar is Pieter Ghyllebert, who comes in for Lithuanian rider Gediminas Begdonas.

A good showing at either of the tours in the gulf will bode well for the team’s prospects at being invited to similar higher ranked events during the year. As such team manager, Kurt Bogaerts, has set some high targets for the races.

“It is important to get a good start to the season, not only for team morale, but because it will set us up for the rest of the season. At the GP Marseilles I hope to see a top ten finish, while in our first stage race race, the Etoile de Bességes, we are targeting a high placement in the general classification and a stage win. Niko achieved this last year in the same race and I don’t see any reason why we can’t do the same again.”

“Oman and Qatar will be difficult races, but this is exactly where we want to be, so we are determined to show everybody what we are capable of. We will be targeting high placings in different stages during both races. Of course we would love to get a stage win – everything is possible but we need a bit of luck as it’s the highest level of competition. The two races in the gulf will be the biggest field of class riders the team has ever faced.”

Bogaerts also outlined his overall goals for the year.

“Overall this year we are targeting some big wins and a ‘standout’ international result. We have put together a really strong squad for this season and as such we have great quality in the team and a mixture of youth of experience. For example we have Niko (Eeckhout) who has raced and won at the top level. He has had injuries recently but looking at him in the training camp he looks the sharpest I have seen him in a long time.

“As for the younger guys, like Bennett and Lavery, its all about how they adapt and hopefully it is sooner rather than later, because I know they have the quality.”

Team for Sunday’s Grand Prix Cysliste la Marseillaise (31st Jan) & Etoile de Bességes (3rd – 7th Feb)

Philip Lavery (IRL)
Ronan McLaughlin (IRL)
Darijus Dzervus (LTU)
Dries Hollanders (BEL)
Kess Heytens (BEL)
Kenny Terweduwe (BEL)
Pieter Ghyllebert (BEL)
Bjorn Brems (BEL)

Team for Tour of Qatar (6th – 11th February)

Niko Eeckhout (BEL – Team Leader)
Mark Cassidy (IRL)
Sam Bennett (IRL)
Andy Fenn (UK)
Mark McNally (UK)
Kevin Claeys (BEL)
Maxim De Busschere (BEL)
Gediminas Begdonas (LTU)

Team for Tour of Oman (15th – 20th February)

Niko Eeckhout (BEL – Team Leader)
Mark Cassidy (IRL)
Sam Bennett (IRL)
Andy Fenn (UK)
Mark McNally (UK)
Kevin Claeys (BEL)
Maxim De Busschere (BEL)
Pieter Ghyllebert (BEL)

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