Sean Kelly Video Interview: Riding races like the Vuelta is a long term goal for team
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sean Kelly Video Interview: Riding races like the Vuelta is a long term goal for team

by Shane Stokes at 6:15 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Video
Wants team to ride top races in future years, but only if sufficient budget to expand

Sean KellyFormer world number one Sean Kelly has spoken at length about the An Post Sean Kelly team he is involved in running, saying that he wants the team to develop into a Pro Continental squad if the circumstances are right.

The squad already gets invitations to some big races such as the Tour of Belgium, the Tour of Britain and the Belgian semi-Classics, thanks to the team’s aggressive riding and also because of Kelly’s association with it.

Longer term, though, he wants to think bigger, with some of the top races in the sport being his target. However, ever the pragmatist, Kelly stresses that the move up to Pro Continental level is only of interest if the team is strong enough to compete.

“It’s important to go Pro Continental at the right level,” he told VeloNation in a long video interview recorded at the recent team launch in Tielt, Belgium. “If you get the results, then you get the sponsors interested. We hope to get the results this year and if we do get the results, then its sure that there will be sposors coming forward.

“It would have to be the right deal, we would have to have the right sponsors where we would have a budget where we could have a Continental pro team where we would move up substantially from the level we are at now.

“I would be talking about getting in the Tour of Flanders as a wild card, doing Gent Wevelgem and possibly doing a Paris-Nice, a Tour of Switzerland and something like maybe a Vuelta.”

The push to find the right backers to enable that to take place is an ongoing one, with Kelly stating that the team has had discussions with several companies in the past and will do so again. While current backers such as An Post puts in a solid investment and enable the team to race in many big events in Europe, a bigger sponsor would be needed to run the team on the scale that Kelly wants.

Fortunately, the lineup this year is one which should make it easier to secure the kind of results which would help in the sponsor search.

Kelly told VeloNation that he believes the Continental outfit could be in line to have its strongest season yet.

The 1988 Vuelta a Espana and multiple Classic winner’s squad has benefited from the tough economic conditions affecting Europe, with two riders due to move on last year returning to the team after deals with bigger outfits fell through.

Tour of Britain stage winner and An Post Rás victor Gediminas Bagdonas was due to move to the Geox TMC team, but its collapse due to the departure of its main sponsor scuppered the move. The Briton Mark McNally, who trumphed in the Mi Aout en Bretagne, had been in talks with Europcar but those negotiations fell through when the team was unsuccessful in its bid for a UCI ProTeam licence.

At the same time, veteran rider Niko Eeckhout decided to remain in the peloton for one more year and, like Bagdonas and McNally, he returned to the team. Together with signings such as the Britons Jonny Bellis and Mark Christian plus the development of talented Irish riders Sam Bennett and Sean Downey, the 2012 lineup is looking promising.

“So far it is looking good,” said Kelly. “On paper, we have the strongest team ever, although you do have to turn that into results. But I’m happy with the way things are going at the moment.

“Eeckhout is still performing really well. He was very impressive at the training camp. I think Bagdonas will produce some good results again this year; last season he had fabulous year, considering he came from a programme of races in the previous year which were shorter races, not the level that he was going last year. So he should win some good races this year, be very aggressive in the races.

“From an Irish point of view, Sam Bennett should produce some good results this year. Last year was a bit of a learning process for him…he was coming from an injury in the previous year. I am hoping that he will benefit from the race programme last year and get some good results. And Sean Downey is in his first year with us – it will be interesting to see how he performs at this level.”

In the video interview above, Kelly discusses the attributes of many of his riders and also gives his thoughts on Bellis’ chances of returning to his top form. The Manx rider has been battling back from a bad head injury suffered in September 2009 and while Kelly believes he’s got a lot of work ahead, he think that if Bellis remains focussed, that he could succeed in that goal.

The team’s general manager Kurt Bogaerts also gives his thoughts on the team in two additional videos; all can be accessed by clicking on the images below.



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