Eeckhout targeting strong ride for An Post Sean Kelly team in Belgian events
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eeckhout targeting strong ride for An Post Sean Kelly team in Belgian events

by Shane Stokes at 6:46 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Veteran rider chasing results in Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke

An Post Sean Kelly teamFollowing on from victory on the last stage of the Driedaagse Van Vlaanderen, fourth in the Omloop van het Waasland and third in last Friday’s Handzame Classic, former Belgian champion Niko Eeckhout is aiming for a strong showing over the next four days.

The 40 year old lines out as part of the An Post Grant Thornton M. Donnelly Sean Kelly team in today’s 1.1-ranked Dwars door Vlaanderen (1.1). He will then travel for the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke (1.HC) on Sunday.

“Niko’s form has been exceptional recently and last Friday he just missed out on the stage win,” said team manager Kurt Bogaerts. “His fitness is spot on, so if he manages to avoid injuries and gets good rest in between races, I don’t see why the good results won’t continue.

“However, it’s a team sport and even though Niko has been getting the podium finishes, it is the other guys’ performances that have allowed him to be involved in the sprints at the end.”

The Belgian will be backed by compatriots Pieter Ghyllebert, Kess Heytens and Dries Hollanders today, as well as the Irish duo Philip Lavery and Mark Cassidy, as well as the Briton Mark McNally and the Lithuanian Gedimis Bagdonas.

Practically the same squad will compete in the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke (1.HC), although another young Irishman Sam Bennett will replace Lavery for that event.

Bogaerts’ tactic will be to again send riders up the road early on, taking pressure of the rest of the team, and then to help ready Eeckhout for the finale. “At the moment the conditioning amongst the squad is excellent, and as a result we are involved most of the breakaways,” he explained. “That in turn allows us to set up and prepare for the sprints. Then all we need is a little luck to win the race.”

One of the goals of the team is to try to help young Irish riders to progress to top level contracts. National road race champion Matt Brammeier made the step up last season, gaining a contract with the HTC Highroad team.

Cassidy has shown good form this season, while Lavery and Bennett are regarded as two very promising riders for the future.

Eeckhout told VeloNation in a video interview last month that 2011 could be his final season in the peloton.

In addition to chasing results, he also plays a guiding role within the team.

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