Seeking entry to races such as the Tour of Belgium and HC-ranked races in that country, the An Post Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team has explained the reasons for its decision to register there for the 2010 season.
The team was founded four years ago as the first Irish continental squad and remained so since then, although its base has been in the town of Merchtem in Belgium. While a strong Irish presence plus the ongoing input of Sean Kelly will maintain the connection with Ireland, there will be a change next year.
General manager Kurt Bogaerts confirmed yesterday that the team has decided to register as a Belgian squad in 2010. "We are very much still Irish," he said, "but registering there will open a lot of doors for us. I've spoken with our main backers in An Post and Grant Thornton [both Irish companies] and they understand the reasons."
Bogaerts explained the benefits. He said that as an Irish squad based in Belgium, UCI rules mean that the team was unable to take part in 2.HC and 1.HC-ranked events there. That meant it missed out on key events such as the Tour of Belgium.
Similarly, it was unable to ride national events, meaning that races at the high and low end of the scale were off limits.
"There were two ways to go about getting into these races," he explained. "The first would be to step up to being a Professional Continental team. However that would require a considerable increase in budget. The second, and easier way, is to change where we register the team.
"I estimate that we will be able to ride 10 to 20 more races as a result, and this in turn should help chase more sponsorship." Other team sources have indicated that starts in the Tour of Belgium and the G.P. E3 Harelbeke are already highly likely.
Longer term, Bogaerts hopes to step up to Pro Continental level next season, providing the budget is there.
The team announced on Friday that it will feature five Irish riders in 2010. David O'Loughlin, Paídi O'Brien, Mark Cassidy, Ronan McLaughlin, and Matt Brammeier all return from this year's squad; Brammeier has raced for Britain in the past but declared for Ireland this season.
He recently finished an excellent fourth in the scratch race in the Manchester World Cup.
Mountain bike rider Connor McConvey is also understood to be joining the team, and will focus more on road races in 2010. That will make it six on the squad. 2008 FBD Insurance Rás winner Stephen Gallagher, who has been with the team for several seasons, has indicated that he will not be coming back.
FBD Insurance Rás stage winner Niko Eeckhout was previously confirmed as staying for at least one more season. The 38-year-old won six races this year, and will become a directeur sportif when he retires.
He and the rest of the team will meet up shortly at its first camp. It is taking place in Calpe, Spain, from the December 14 to 21, with a second one running there from January 10 to 20.
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