By Shane Stokes
The Taiwan-based Giant Asia team look set to spend part of the 2006 season racing in Europe following the news that a Northern Ireland firm are to become involved in the sponsorship of the Continental team. Jamijo Overseas Property Agents have signed a deal to provide backing to the Asian squad, marking the first significant investment by a Northern Ireland firm in international cycling.
The company is owned by investment advisor Philip Orr, who became interested in working with the team due to the Irish element in its lineup. A total of three such riders will be with the team next season. David McCann and Paul Griffin are both returning, extending their contracts for one and two years respectively, while Stephen Gallagher is moving to the team after competing with the Flanders squad in 2005. Like McCann, who is currently leading the 2006 Asian Continental Tour classification, Gallagher is part of the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games team for Melbourne.
British rider Daniel Lloyd will also join the Giant Asia squad. "I think this is a very positive development for the sport here," said Gallagher at the sponsorship launch on Thursday. "Jamijo's backing is the first major Irish investment in international cycling and hopefully it will encourage other companies to also get involved. It is a big boost for Irish riders, and so is very welcome."
"I have always believed in supporting local sport," Philip Orr explained at the press launch. "When I realised that there are a number of Irish cyclists competing on the professional circuit, I felt that it was a cause worth backing."
The Giant Asia team will be targeting races such as the Tour of Siam, the Tour of Langkawi, the Tour of Thailand and the Tour of Taiwan early in 2006. The new sponsorship deal means that the team is also expected to compete in some European events a little later in the season.
Jamijo is also considering establishing a cycling base in Carcassonne in France, which would cater for professional teams, national squads and other riders. It is thought that the base would be established by 2007.