An Post Sean Kelly team ambitious heading into new season
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Post Sean Kelly team ambitious heading into new season

by Shane Stokes at 2:10 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour of Qatar
 
Team will face strong competition in France, Qatar and Oman

Niko EeckhoutThe Irish sponsored, Belgium-registered An Post Grant Thornton M. Donnnelly Sean Kelly team will get its 2011 campaign underway this Sunday in the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise in southern France.

The majority of the selection is Belgian, with Dries Hollanders, Kess Heytens, Kenny Terweduwe, Pieter Ghyllebert and Bjorn Brems representing that country. Lithuanian Darijus Dzervus and young Irish riders Ronan Mc Laughlin and Philip Lavery complete the squad, and will also contest the five day Etoile de Besseges which begins next Wednesday and runs until Sunday February 7.

Former Belgian champion Niko Eeckhout is now 41 years of age but remains an ambitious, winning rider. He was injured last season but has been working on getting over lingering issues over the winter and will get to test his legs in the 2.1-ranked event Tour of Qatar (February 6-11). Compatriots Kevin Claeys and Maxim de Busschere are part of the team, as are the Britons Andy Fenn and Mark McNally, Lithuanian Gediminas Begdonas plus the two Irishmen Mark Cassidy and Sam Bennett.

Like Lavery, the latter is regarded as a rider with plenty of ability and will be keen to make an impression. He moved to the Continental team at the end of last season, having raced with the VC La Pomme squad in 2009. Bennett hails from Carrick on Suir, the same hometown of Sean Kelly, and hopes to emulate the highly successful rider.

Almost the same lineup will do the Tour of Oman, although Ghyllebert comes in in place of Gediminas Begdonas.

Team manager Kurt Bogaerts knows that a good showing in the races will greatly increase their chances of being selected for other events.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Looking to the year as a whole, Bogaerts is ambitious. “Overall this year we are targeting some big wins and a ‘standout’ international result,” he said. “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, it’s all about how they adapt. Hopefully it is sooner rather than later, because I know they have the quality.”


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An Post Sean Kelly team for the Grand Prix Cysliste la Marseillaise & 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 (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)
Pieter Ghyllebert (BEL)

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