With just over a fortnight remaining before the start of Ireland’s most important cycling event, two very strong international teams have been unveiled for this year’s An Post Rás.
The Irish-sponsored, Belgian-registered An Post Sean Kelly team and the Taiwan-registered Giant Kenda squad will both be travelling to the prestigious eight day race, and will each have a strong Irish representation.
Although the An Post squad is yet to be finalised, the provisional lineup of eight riders – from which five will be selected – features four Irish competitors.
These are 2010 stage winner and King of the Mountains Mark Cassidy and Ronan McLaughlin, as well as the talented young duo Philip Lavery and Sam Bennett.
Bennett turned heads when he became one of the youngest stage winners ever in 2009, outsprinting some very strong riders into Clara at just 18 years of age. Lavery has gained a reputation for his aggressive style of racing and was crowned best young rider in last weekend’s Tour of Ulster.
The other riders in the run for participation are the Belgians Pieter Ghyllebert and Dries Hollanders, the Lituanian Geminidas Bagdonas and the Briton Mark McNally.
Team manager Kurt Bogaerts has previously seen his riders take stage victories plus the overall classification in the past, and will be ambitious once again.
“We want to do really well…it is the major goal for the team for the season,” he said. “We will try to go for the overall and stages. We have a young team this year so we can also go for the white jersey of best young rider. There are plenty of things to aim for; we will try to get the maximum.”
The other team confirmed is the Giant Kenda squad of former winner David McCann. He is one of Ireland’s most successful cyclists, having won national championships titles on multiple occasions, and also racing strongly in overseas competitions. He won the Rás in 2004 and has taken several stage victories in the race. This year he has been runner-up in two major Asian competitions, the Jelajah Malaysia and the Tour of Taiwan, and last Saturday he won the opening stage of the Tour of Ulster.
McCann will be joined by another Irish rider who rode well in that event, Martyn Irvine. He took the King of the Mountains prize in Ulster and is showing good road form after concentrating on track racing in recent months. The 25 year old took tenth in the omnium event at the Track World Championships, and he is hoping to qualify for the next Olympics.
The team is likely to be completed by the Scottish rider Alex Coutts, plus the Taiwanese duo of Chang Wei Kei and Wang Yin Chin.
Race director Dermot Dignam believes that both squads will add to the standard of the event. “There’s already been a very strong international field confirmed for the race, and the addition of the An Post Sean Kelly team plus the Giant Kenda squad will further boost the level,” he said. “In addition to that, both teams have strong Irish links and are guaranteed to attract support from the large crowds and interest from the media.”