By Shane Stokes
The Sean Kelly M. Donnelly racing team, which this year moved up to Continental status, is to merge for the 2007 season with another Irish squad of the same level. Team manager Kurt Bogaerts told Cyclingnews this week that the Belgian-based squad will join with the Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group team and that he expects that this pooling of strength will bring greater success in the years ahead.
"I think this is a very good step," he said, speaking by phone from the Sean Kelly Cycling Academy in Merchtem, Belgium. "Looking back, I think it was a bit too much to have two Continental teams, certain at this early stage. Joining the two squads will be an important move and will help us to progress to the next level."
Both squads rode big international events this season and while good results were obtained by some riders, others found it more difficult to compete regularly at a high level. The new structure will see an overall reduction in the numbers of Irish riders with Continental licences due to the change in emphasis from quantity to quality. However it is expected that this short term refocusing will bring about greater overall success for Irish cycling in the years to come.
Bogaerts gave some details about the new setup. "M. Donnelly will remain from the Sean Kelly team, and then Murphy and Gunn and the Newlyn Group will come on board as new backers. There might also be the possibility of taking on an extra sponsor, we will see what happens in the next few weeks."
"As regards the lineup, we will start talking with the riders next Thursday about contracts. I think there will be eight or nine, or perhaps ten Irish guys who will be riding for the team. And then there will also be some young foreign riders, not only from Belgium but other nationalities as well."
Bogaerts said the lineup is some way from being finalised, but mentioned Paídi O’Brien, Tim Cassidy and Mark Cassidy as amongst those likely to be retained. Some riders from the existing Murphy and Gunn setup will also be considered for the new-look squad.
O’Brien took the team’s best result in 2006 when he finished 7th in the 1.1 ranked Grand Prix d'Overijse - Course du Raisin.
"This will represent a fresh start for us," Bogaerts continued. "It is important that we take a new road. This will be the Continental team of Ireland, we will try to sign the best Irish guys that are currently available. My big hope is that we can start like we ended this year. In the last two months we had a top 10 in a 1.1 ranked event, and rode well in many races. Both Sean and myself hope to see these kinds of results more often - the aim is that we will build on this first season and be more competitive throughout the year."
Also see: Sean Kelly Racing Team launch in Dublin, Ireland, in February 2006.