May 17, 2011 by Irish Peloton
An Post-Sean Kelly team decided for the upcoming Rás
The An Post-Sean Kelly team has been announced for the upcoming An Post Rás. The five man team is made up of three Irishmen, an Englishman and a Lithuanian. Sam Bennett, Mark Cassidy and Ronan McLaughlin will all be flying the home flag throughout the eight-day race while the team is made complete by Mark McNally and Gediminas Bagdonas.
Conspicuous in his absence is the hugely promising Irish rider Philip Lavery who has struggled slightly with illness in recent weeks. Although he had shown a slight return to form in the Tour of Ulster where he placed fourth on a stage and took 10th overall, team manager Kurt Bogaerts admits it was difficult to leave Lavery out of the Rás team.
“It was hard to pick the squad for the Rás, but it is a good problem for me to have. I am lucky that the guys have been racing well recently and they all wanted to be part of the team. It was an especially tough decision to leave Philip Lavery out, but at the moment I feel I have picked the strongest five for this race. Bennett and Cassidy are both previous stage winners of the race, while Ronan has been one of our strongest riders recently. Mark McNally also has good experience of the race, while Gediminas won at the weekend and looks in top shape.”
The win by Bagdonas that Bogaerts refers to came in the Verrebroek – Beveren on Sunday. Belgian stalwart Niko Eeckhout took second place and the team also had four more riders finish in the top 20 of this Belgian one-day race. Eeckhout also won the Houthalen-Helchteren race last Saturday to add to a fantastic weekend in the run up to the An Post Rás which starts in five days in Dunboyne. Bogaerts agrees that this past weekend has been fantastic preparation for the An Post Rás.
“To win twice at the weekend will be great for everyone’s confidence. We haven’t been racing a lot recently because I wanted the guys to be well rested before they reached Ireland. The weekend’s results proved that the rest has been good for the team and I feel we are in peak condition coming up to the Rás. I’m certain we will be fighting for every jersey on the race.”
Although still only 26 years old, Cassidy is the oldest rider on the team and will likely be the captain on the road. He won the stage into Kilcullen last year along with the Mountains Classification and he also wore the leader’s jersey back in 2008. His father Philip Cassidy is a former Rás winner who incredibly won the race twice, 16 years apart, in 1983 and 1999.
In the past three years, the An Post-Sean Kelly team have won all the major classifications in the An Post Rás. Last year, the mountains and under-23 jerseys were won by Cassidy and Connor McConvey respectively. In 2009, Niko Eeckhout won the points competition while back in 2008 the race was won overall by Stephen Gallagher. In their home race, the incentive for the team to win one or more of these jerseys this year will be huge. They will also be looking to add to their total tally of three stage wins in this, the 59th edition of the An Post Rás.