Ireland's top cyclists were given a stamp of approval yesterday when An Post announced it will take over as title sponsor of the Sean Kelly Cycling Team for 2008.
The team, based at the Sean Kelly Cycling Academy in Belgium, will be sponsored by Ireland's national postal service and the young squad will be hoping to deliver a few good results in 2008.
Set up two years ago to give young Irish riders a foothold on the professional cycling ladder after proving themselves first in the academy environment, the UCI registered continental team will also be backed by M. Donnelly power tools and accounting firm Grant Thornton next season.
"In our view it is crucial that young Irish cyclists have access to international competition and training," An Post CEO Donal Connell said. "This is an essential element of their career development and an integral part of the development of cycling across the country. An Post's sponsorship will enable some top-class Irish cyclists to fulfil their potential at the peak of international cycling, under the expert eye of Sean Kelly, an international sporting legend and a giant of Irish sport."
An Post were introduced to cycling last year when they sponsored the green points jersey in the inaugural Tour of Ireland and the posties look to be happy with their return as Connell stated they will be announcing a number of other sponsorship initiatives in cycling in the coming months.
"This team raises the profile of Irish cyclists in Europe," Kelly said. "One of the big advantages of basing our team at the academy in Belgium is the access it gives our Irish cyclists to top European races. It provides them with the opportunities that we did not have as cyclists back in the 80's and that is how it should be. If you were to send athletes or teams over from Ireland, the cost is very prohibitive. Basing ourselves in Belgium, we can have a team in a race with all the necessary backup without an issue."
The team will again be managed by Belgian Kurt Bogaerts, and will comprise at least four Irish cyclists, with 2007 riders Páidi O'Brien, Isaac Speirs, Stephen Gallagher and Mark Cassidy already re-signed for 2008. Having earlier turned down some top riders, including Slovakian under-23 world champion Peter Velits and his brother Martin (now with Team High Road) due to doubts about sponsorship when previous backers Murphy & Gunn and Newlyn Group's 2007 deal ended, the squad hope to sign some more foreign based riders in the coming weeks.
As well as a full international programme, the An Post squad will return to Ireland for the nation's top races, the FBD Insurance Rás, Tour of Ireland and national championships.
"It's important for us not only to take part in top races in Europe and abroad, but at home in Ireland," Kelly said. "It's a chance for our Irish cyclists to return home and showcase their success as part of the team."
© BikeRadar 2007