By Shane Stokes
It has been confirmed that the former world under 23 time trial champion Danny Pate is likely to lead a strong TIAA-CREF team in next month's FBD Insurance Rás. The American team was set up three years ago by former professional Jonathan Vaughters with a view to developing new US talent, and made a good Rás debut last year when Stuart Gillespie won the Irish Sports Council's award for best young rider and finished ninth overall. His teammate Nathan Mitchell was a fine third on stage six to Rathdrum.
Race organiser Dermot Dignam revealed this week that the squad would return. "The team rode very well last time and made a real contribution to the racing," he said. "I think they will play a very significant part this year and will certainly be one of the big threats to an Irish victory."
The team is managed by Vaughters, a successful pro who helped his US Postal teammate Lance Armstrong take the first two of his seven victories in the 1999 and 2000 Tours de France. He also recorded some fine personal results such as a stage win and second overall in the 1999 Dauphiné Libéré, plus a superb team time trial stage win with Credit Agricole during the 2001 Tour.
Two years later, he founded the TIAA-CREF team with the goal of helping young American riders develop into strong professionals. The team has shown strong form already this season, with Thomas Peterson, Tayler Tolleson and Craig Lewis taking the first three places in the best young rider classification of the Tour of California. Last month, Charles Bradley Huff won a stage in the Tour of Normandy and wore the race leader's jersey for 3 days.
Those performances show that aiming for the overall honours in the 2.2 ranked FBD Insurance Rás is a logical and attainable target. "Last year we won the best young rider jersey, and we'll have a couple of guys that will be contenders for that again," Vaughters states. "However, this year, our goal will be to win the race outright. I think predicting a victory in the Ras is next to impossible as the race always is decided by the odd breakaway and a bit of luck, as opposed to just brute strength. That said, we should be as good as any team out there."
Gillespie is expected to return, as is Ian MacGregor, the former US under 23 champion who was lying third overall in the best young rider standings for much of last year's race. The team is likely to be completed by three newcomers to the Irish tour, namely Lewis, Tolleson, plus the rider who is perhaps the team's biggest threat, Pate.
Vaughters said that the team would be looking forward to the ride. "I wasn't the director at last year's race, but I know my guys enjoyed the event and came out of it with fabulous form," he said.
TIAA-CREF are the second overseas team to be named as part of the lineup. Last week it was announced that defending champion Chris Newton and his Continental team Recycling.co.uk will take part. The 2006 FBD Insurance Rás begins in Dublin on May 21st and finishes eight days and over 1200 kilometres later in Skerries on Sunday May 28th.