A 16-man line-up for the 2014 An Post Sean Kelly Cycling team has been announced, including six new signings.
The team secured their best ever season on the UCI European Tour last year, which culminated in Waterford’s Sam Bennett making the well deserved jump up to Pro Continental level with German outfit, Team Netapp-Endura.
The An Post team will once again have a strong Irish contingent with young riders Marcus Christie, Ryan Mullen and Conor Dunne penning one-year deals to join Jack Wilson and Sean Downey, who have been retained for the year ahead.
It’s been an encouraging start to the season already for the team and in particular from the new Irish signings.
National Under 23 Time Trial Champion Mullen has just returned from an impressive debut at the World Track Championships in Columbia, where he narrowly missed out on a bronze medal in the individual pursuit.
At the Etoile de Bessege in France last month Dunne played an integral part in Christie’s outstanding display where he bagged a sixth place finish on the opening stage and wore the best young rider jersey after day two.
Following a hugely impressive debut season with the An Post team, 20 year-old Jack Wilson will be hoping to replicate his form from last year.
Kieran Frend and Mark McNally - who will line out for the An Post outfit for his fifth season this year – will have a new UK compatriot alongside them in 20 year-old Owain Doull.
The Welsh native joins from the Great Britain National Team and will be familiar to Irish cycling fans having won the points classification at last year’s An Post Rás.
Recently crowned World Track Champion Glenn O’Shea has also re-committed to the team.
The Australian native is coming off the back of another phenomenal gold medal result in the Men’s Team Pursuit at the Track World Championships in Columbia.
O’Shea will have another Aussie team mate in the ranks this year in 19 year-old Robert-Jon McCarthy.
The Fermoy born rider moved to Australia with his family at the age of 14 and has gone on to become Australian National Road Race Champion and also represented his adopted country in the World Championships last September.
Another rider who emerged successful at the recent Track World Championships was New Zealand’s Aaron Gate.
Gate claimed a bronze medal in the Men’s Team Pursuit and will line out for a second season once more with the An Post team alongside fellow countryman Shane Archbold.
In addition Belgian duo Wout Franssen and Laurent Vanden Bak have re-signed for the 2014 campaign and welcome back a familiar countryman in 25 year-old Kevin Claeys, who returns for his second spell with the An Post team, having joined initially back in 2011.
With a plethora of young talent in this year’s squad, veteran rider Bobbie Traksel will bring some valuable experience to the set up. The Dutchman has an enviable list of famous race wins including Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and joins from Champions Systems team.
After a very successful 2013 season team manager Kurt Bogaerts is eager to carry that momentum in to this year’s racing calendar and hopes that another rider can follow in the footsteps of Sam Bennett in to the Pro Tour ranks.
“We probably had our most successful ever season last year," he said. "We achieved really strong results at the big races such as the Tour of Britain and the An Post Rás. However, that season is over now and we need to carry that good form in to this campaign. I think the overall balance to the team is good and I am very excited about what the season will bring.”
The An Post squad’s first trip back to Ireland will come in May for the 62nd edition of the An Post Rás.
“The Rás is a major target for us every year. It’s a fantastic race and one in which the riders love being a part of. There’s no race like it around so for any rider to be involved is a great experience.” said team director Sean Kelly.
The An Post sponsored team was set up by Sean Kelly eight years ago as an extension of the Sean Kelly Academy to give young Irish cyclists a base from which to compete in Belgium, with the pro team designed to give young Irish riders access to a programme of top international races.