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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019
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Sean Kelly An Post team get in the saddle

Four Irish riders are set for another year in the peloton with Sean Kelly’s An Post team.

THE LINE-UPS FOR the An Post-Sean Kelly team’s first races of the season have been announced.

The four Irish riders Sam Bennett, Mark Cassidy, Philip Lavery and Ronan McLaughlin will be divided between two squads, one of which will race in France while the other will compete in the Middle East.

Lavery and McLaughlin will be part of the squad that will be racing in France over the coming fortnight. They will kick off the An Post-Sean Kelly team’s season at the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise, a one day race held in the south of France where previous winners include Bernard Hinault and Richard Virenque.

In the same race last year, the team’s best place finisher was the Belgian veteran Niko Eeckhout who managed 11th place.

Team manager Kurt Bogaerts is hoping to go one better this year: “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.

“At the GP Marseilles I hope to see a top-10 finish, while in our first stage race, the Étoile de Bessèges, 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.”

The Étoile de Bessèges is a five-day stage race where Eeckhout did indeed win the final stage last year in a bunch sprint, while another Belgian on the An Post-Sean Kelly team, Pieter Ghyllebert also managed third place overall.

But if Bogaerts is to achieve his team goals for the opening French races of the season he will have to do so without Eeckhout, as he will be racing in the Tours of Qatar and Oman alongside Irish riders Sam Bennett and Mark Cassidy.

Goals

These races are two of the most prestigious that the An Post-Sean Kelly team have ever been invited to take part in, the prospect of which excites team manager Bogaerts: ”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.

An Post-Sean Kelly’s best chance of a good result in the Middle East lie with Niko Eeckhout, but having turned 40 in December, the team will not be able to rely on him to deliver results for much longer. But Bogaerts feels Eeckhout contributes to a nice blend of talent in the team: “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 and experience.

“For example we have Niko 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, its all about how they adapt and hopefully it is sooner rather than later, because I know they have quality”.

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