Eeckhout, Bagdonas, Ghyllebert and Cassidy renew with An Post Sean Kelly team
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Eeckhout, Bagdonas, Ghyllebert and Cassidy renew with An Post Sean Kelly team

by Shane Stokes at 2:37 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Bagdonas back after Geox-TMC team collapses

Gediminas BagdonasAs indicated last week, former Belgian champion Niko Eeckhout has today signed a new contract with the An Post Grant Thornton M. Donnelly Sean Kelly team, further extending his time with the team. The rider, who will turn 41 next week and will therefore be one of the oldest in the peloton, is one of four riders announced today as having renewed deals with the squad.

Also back on board are Gediminas Bagdonas (pictured), Peter Ghyllebert and Mark Cassidy. Bagdonas had a very successful season in 2011 and had been due to go to the Geox-TMC team, but will now return to the An Post setup. The Spanish squad has been unsuccessful in finding a new sponsor after Geox walked away, and will stop.

General manager Kurt Bogaerts told VeloNation last week that there was a chance Bagdonas would return. “Geox is still unofficial…it is still not completely finished, so that is what Bagdonas is waiting on. If that doesn’t go ahead, he will probably ride for us,” he said at the time. “We should know soon what is happening.

The Belgian Ghyllebert and Irishman Cassidy have been with the team for several seasons and have also completed new deals.

“We are really happy to have re-signed these guys as their experience and understanding will be really important for us as we have a very young team next year,” said Bogaerts.

“Bagdonas had a great year winning the An Post Ras and also a stage at the Tour of Britain, so he is a top rider and crucial to the team. Niko is also a huge name and he has been excellent for us over the past three years and we feel he can continue to win races for us.

“Cassidy and Ghyllebert have also been competing at this level for a number of years now and they can help to bring on these younger riders. “

Squad looking strong for 2012:

The An Post Grant Thornton M. Donnelly Sean Kelly team has a history of helping riders develop and move on to bigger squads, with Dan Lloyd, Dan Fleeman and Irish road race champion Matt Brammeier being three examples. Lloyd and Fleeman rode with the team in 2008 and got contract with the Cervélo Test Team in 2009; Brammeier had a strong year last season and stepped up to the HTC Highroad team.

Bagdonas looked set to move to the big time after netting several big results this season. He won stage seven of the Tour of Britain, took the Lithuanian time trial championships and clocked up stage wins plus overall victories in the Ronde de l’Oise and the An Post Rás. Mark McNally was also successful, winning the Mi Aout en Bretagne, and was told that he would have a place on the Europcar team if it secured a place in the WorldTour. It ultimately missed out on that licence, and he has decided to return.

Another who will be part of the team in 2012 is former Saxo Bank rider Jonny Bellis. His contact was not renewed there and he subsequently accepted an offer to race with Bogaert’s team; Bellis said recently in his VeloNation blog that it could be the ideal arrangement for him as he would have a varied race programme which would help him progressively rebuild his condition.

Bogaerts and Kelly have both said that they will aid his return, working with him to complete his long journey back to top form after a near-fatal scooter crash in September 2009. Driedaagse Van West Vlaanderen stage winner Eeckhout is also likely to guide the young Manxman, given that he will have a mentor role with the squad.

As for the Irishmen, Cassidy will be joined by Sam Bennett, Ronan McLaughlin, Sean Downey and Connor McConvey in the lineup; their aim is to learn from the other riders, try to land strong results and progress to Pro Continental or ProTeam contracts.

The An Post Grant Thornton M. Donnelly Sean Kelly team will get together on Monday for the start of the pre-season training camp in Calpe, Spain.

“We are really looking forward to the new season now,” said Bogaerts. “We have a very strong team and are confident that we can progress another step again next year. We have a lot of hard work and training to do in advance to prepare, but the mood and the attitude in the team is very good.”


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