Defending champion Bagdonas confirmed for An Post Rás
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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Defending champion Bagdonas confirmed for An Post Rás

by Shane Stokes at 1:02 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Lituanian and four Irish riders to represent An Post Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team

Gediminas BagdonasHaving clocked up several strong results this year and shown he is in good condition, 2011 An Post Rás winner Gediminas Bagdonas has been confirmed as returning with the An Post Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team for this year’s race.

The Lithuanian will aim to take his second consecutive victory in the event, drawing on both his form and the experience of having competed in Ireland last season.

He will be joined by four strong Irish riders, namely Sam Bennett, Conor McConvey, Ronan McLaughlin and Sean Downey.

All are capable of taking stages and fighting for the general classification, making the An Post Grant Thornton Sean Kelly selection one of the strongest in the race.

Bagdonas has picked up several strong results this year, including eighth overall in the Three Days of De Panne, seventh in the Handzame Classic and second in the Rund um Koln, all UCI 2.1 and 1.1 ranked events.

More recently he registered three top five placings in 1.2-ranked races, with fifth in Zellik – Galmaarden, first in the Ronde van Noord-Holland and second in the Omloop der Kempen showing that his form remains good.

Those results suggest that he is the most likely of the team to succeed, although the unpredictability of the An Post Rás means that any one of the five could find themselves in the leadership position.

General manager Kurt Bogaerts said that he faced a tough choice when picking the riders. “Deciding on the team for this year’s Rás was not an easy task. It is a race in which all of the riders want to be involved in, but unfortunately I can only select five to compete,” he stated.

However in picking four Irish riders, he will benefit from their knowledge of racing on Irish roads.

“I think experience will play a vital role in the outcome of this year’s Rás. Bennett and McLaughlin were both involved in Bagdonas’ overall win last year, while McConvey finished top U23 rider and 4th overall in 2010 and Sean Downey was the highest placed Irish rider last year.”

Another plus is the fact that McLaughlin comes from Donegal, and so will have extensive knowledge of many of the roads and climbs that the race will use during four out of the eight stages.

“Ronan was delighted when he saw the Rás route this year as he trains regularly on the roads, so I’m sure that will be positive for us,” he explained. “A couple of years ago David O’Loughlin won a stage for the team near where he grew up so hopefully Ronan can do the same.”

Although the race doesn’t go to Bennett’s hometown of Carrick on Suir, the rider has been in good form of late and has the finishing speed to hunt for the second stage victory of his career.

Despite never having previously raced over 100 kilometres in 2009, the year he first rode the An Post Rás, the-then 18 year old was quickest on day seven to Clara and became one of the youngest stage winners in the history of the race.

Downey and McConvey are also two strong riders and if things work out tactically for them, have the ability to chase their own success. McConvey was fourth overall in 2010, while Downey finished highest-placed Irish rider twelve months ago, placing eleventh. He went on to win the Irish under 23 time trial title.

However Bogaerts doesn’t want anyone to presume overall victory in the race is a given. In fact, he believes the team will be closely watched by others, making things quite complicated.

“Bagdonas is returning as the champion so there will be a lot of expectation and pressure on us as a team to perform,” he said. “It is a very difficult race to win and I’m sure with the quality of riders we face again this year it will be even harder to retain it.”

As the common An Post name suggests, both the team and the event itself are backed by the same sponsor, namely Ireland’s postal service. This gives the riders an additional incentive to try to win.

The 2.2-ranked race begins in Dunboyne on Sunday May 20th, and will total almost 1200 kilometres in length. A number of overseas teams have previously been confirmed for the race.


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