Following a great start to the season where the team was involved in the much of the major action during the prestigious Tours of Qatar and Oman, the 2011 An Post sponsored Sean Kelly Cycling team was officially launched in Brussels today.
This year’s squad is made up of sixteen riders and includes four Irish cyclists, with 2010 riders Mark Cassidy and Ronan McLaughlin both re-signed alongside young Irish hopefuls Sam Bennett and Philip Lavery.
“The team has started really well this year and it was fantastic that we got invites to both tours (Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman). We put in great performances in both races and from a personal point of view it was incredible to be racing against some of the best cyclists in the world. The overall experience was amazing and something that I definitely want more of,” Bennett said.
Bennett’s statement is backed up by the team’s proven ability in competing against their ProTour rivals for the second time in as many weeks in Oman. The ‘boys in green’ were involved in many of the stage’s big breakaways and bunch sprints, the outcome of which saw some fine results, including Niko Eeckhout’s 8th place in the third stage, followed by Pieter Ghyllebert’s excellent 7th place in the sixth and final stage, in a dash to the line which was won by ‘king sprinter’ Mark Cavendish.
The team will once again have a strong Belgian contingent as Eeckhout along with Ghyllebert, Bjorn Brems and Maxim Debusschere are all re-signed from last year’s side. They are joined by new signees and fellow countrymen Kevin Claeys, Kess Heytens, Dries Hollanders and Kenny Terweduwe.
The final existing team member retained from last year, Mark McNally, will have other UK company in the setup as Great Britain Under 23 academy rider and former Paris-Roubaix Junior winner, Andy Fenn, joins the group. This season’s line up is completed by promising Lithuanian duo, Darijus Dzervus and Gediminas Bagdonas.
Team manager Kurt Bogaerts said the team is now full of confidence and he hopes this will keep the early season momentum going. “We were grateful to receive the invites to the races to Qatar and Oman, but I wanted to make sure that they weren’t just that (invites). The strategy we set up was to ride aggressively and to be involved in all the breakaways, to prove that we were really worth the invitations.”
“The results were better than I expected and we got a lot of compliments, especially from the race organisers. I was very happy with the young guys, particularly Sam Bennett, who found it tough in Qatar, but was excellent in Oman.”
“This year I feel we have the perfect mix between youth and experience in the team. The first few races have given everyone confidence, so the plan is to stick to the same tactics – ride aggressively and be involved in the breaks – and then I am certain we will get a couple of big results soon,” Bogaerts added.
The team will be back in action with a double header this weekend, at the Beverbeek Classic (1.2) on Saturday (26th) and the Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne (1.1) on Sunday (27th).
The An Post squad will be returning to Ireland for the nation’s top races during the year including the An Post Rás and national championships. “Our 2011 race schedule is now complete and we will be returning to Ireland for the Rás on May 22nd,” said team director Seán Kelly “This year it will be extra special and of course and extra motivation now that An Post are the title sponsor. We look forward to returning to home soil to race in front of our fans then.”
The An Post sponsored team was set up by Sean Kelly six years ago as an extension of the Sean Kelly Academy to give young Irish cyclists a base from which to compete in Belgium, with the pro team designed to give young Irish riders access to a programme of top international races. This is An Post’s fourth year sponsoring the team.
2011 An Post Sean Kelly Team
Mark Cassidy (IRL)
Ronan McLaughlin (IRL)
Sam Bennett (IRL)
Philip Lavery (IRL)
Mark McNally (UK)
Andy Fenn (UK)
Niko Eeckhout (BEL)
Maxim Debusschere (BEL)
Bjorn Brems (BEL)
Pieter Ghyllabert (BEL)
Dries Hollanders (BEL)
Kevin Claeys (BEL)
Kess Heytens (BEL)
Kenny Terweduwe (BEL)
Darijus Dzervus (LTU)
Gediminas Bagdonas (LTU)
Manager: Kurt Bogaerts
Director: Seán Kelly