Last year’s runner-up Connor McConvey has been confirmed as spearheading the Azerbaijan Synergy Baku team for the 2014 An Post Rás, which begins in Dunboyne on Sunday.
The 25-year-old rider has a strong history in the event, netting fourth overall in 2010, seventh in 2012 and then clocking up three top-five stage finishes last year plus an excellent second overall.
He finished deadlocked on time with the Polish rider Marcin Bialoblocki, who took the general classification victory by virtue of better stage placings.
The Synergy Baku team has two more Irish riders within its ranks but both of those will unfortunately miss the race due to illness.
National champion Matt Brammeier had been pencilled in to ride the race for the second time in his career but while he has been in fine form this season, he has had to withdraw due to chicken pox.
Also out is the rider who finished second behind him in last year’s championships, Philip Lavery. He currently has an infection and has told the team he will not have recovered in time.
“Connor has got himself sorted and is punching out some pretty impressive numbers in training"
The team will include four overseas riders, Germans Christoph Schweizer and Daniel Klemme, plus the Austrian duo Markus Eibegger and Jan Sokol.
All have good results to their credit: Schweizer won a stage in the 2013 Tour of Azerbaijan and was second this year on a stage of the Tour of Taiwan while Klemme clocked up a stage win in the Tour of China last season. Eibegger won a stage in the recent Tour de Bretagne and Sokol was second and third on stages of the Mzansi Tour.
McConvey had been below his usual level earlier this year but general manager David McQuaid states that he has turned things around.
“Connor has got himself sorted and is punching out some pretty impressive numbers in training,” he said.
“Eibegger had bad luck in Azerbaijan, which was his season goal, puncturing at a crucial moment and then losing out when no neutral service was near him.
“He was due a rest and some time with the family, but credit to him, he is helping the team out by going to Ireland for a week. I fully believe he is capable of a stage win if you look at this year's route.”
McQuaid said that Schweizer, Klemme and Sokol are all sprinters and while the tough route may test them, they will seize the opportunity on flatter stages. “They all missed out on the Azerbaijan selection and they are hungry and motivated to prove something.”
A total of 33 teams will take part in this year’s event, with sixteen of those coming from abroad.
The latter include the Irish-registered Belgium-based An Post Chain Reaction Sean Kelly squad, Britain Velosure Giordana, the national teams of Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand, Austria Tirol Cycling, Australia Team Subaru-Albion, Azerbaijan Synergy Baku, France Bretagne Velotec, Germany Team Kuota, Italy Team Idea, Netherlands Parkhotel Valkenburg, Norway Motiv, Britain Madison Genesis, Britain NFTO Pro Cycling and Britain Champion System.
The 17 Irish county squads are Antrim Phoenix McConvey Cycles, Cork Aquablue, Cork Mildeton Velo Revolution, Donegal Inishowen Gateway McCafe, Down Chain Reaction, Dublin UCD Arrow, Dublin Alimay, Dublin Team 39 Spin 11, Kerry Aherns Opel BMW, Louth North and Louth South, Mayo Centra, Meath Dunboyne DID, Meath Navan Avonmore, Tipperary Visit Nenagh, Tipperary South and Waterford Comeragh Race the Rás.
The latter was expected to include the former race winner Ciarán Power but he is a late withdrawal from the event.
The 2014 An Post Rás will take an anticlockwise route around Ireland, beginning on Dunboyne on Sunday 18 May and featuring stage-end finishes in Roscommon, Lisdoonvarna, Charleville, Cahirciveen, Clonakilty, Carrick on Suir, Baltinglass and Skerries.
The race profile strikes a balance between flat fast roads, undulating sections and tough climbs, with a total of five category one mountains and five category two ascents set to shake up the peloton.
Climbers will seek to make the most of stages such as the race from Charleville to Cahirciveen on day four, which features no less than ten categorised ascents, as well as stage six’s summit finish at the top of Seskin Hill in Carrick on Suir.
"We expect a really great edition of the race"
There will also be other opportunities for them during the race, although the flatland specialists and the sprinters will also have many chances to capitalise on.
“We expect a really great edition of the race,” says An Post Rás race director Tony Campbell.
“There is a very good line-up of international teams, a determined block of county teams and a challenging, tactically demanding route. With all of these factors combined we anticipate a great battle and many interesting twist and turns over the eight days of competition.”