Cycling: An Post lads will deliver on big stage
Kelly's heroes to don green jersey in Rás
The start of the An Post Rás is two days away and An Post-Chain Reaction Sean Kelly team manager Kurt Bogaerts has named a strong five-man line-up. They will tackle the gruelling eight-day stage race beginning this Sunday in Dunboyne.
With the team hampered by injuries in recent weeks, Bogaerts includes Conor Dunne and Ryan Mullen as the two Irish riders, alongside Joshua Edmondson, Lithuania's Aidis Kruopis and Kiwi Aaron Gate.
Dunne led the Rás back in 2013, picking up the Stage 1 win from Longford to Nenagh, while Irish Elite Road Race Champion and time-trial specialist, Ryan Mullen, is also included, in what will be his first Rás.
Edmondson goes into the Rás in dazzling form following his 6th place finish overall at the Tour d'Azerbaidjan, which included a win on the 177km third stage in Gabala.
Bogaerts is looking forward to his team's return to Irish soil and believes the new route changes will add greatly to the unpredictability that the An Post Rás has long been known for over the years.
"The wind will play a big part this year with a lot of exposed stages, particularly along the west coast. We've prepared well and feel we are certainly in with a chance of winning".
The Rás will begin in Meath and will feature stage end finishes in Carlow, Tipperary, Bearna, Newport, Ballina, Ballinamore, Drogheda and Skerries.
Having joined the team in Belgium last month to sample some of the cobblestone delights on the infamous Tour of Flanders, this weekend warrior got a taste of how Ireland's only professional cycling team ticks.
An Post-Chain Reaction operate in the third tier of the UCI so the glamour of the Tour de France is a long way off yet.
Still, donning the green jersey, Sean Kelly has ambitions of expanding the team but it all comes down to funding.
Conor Dunne's (the tallest man in the UCI at 6'8") bike cost over €15,000 to be custom made, so they're crying out for more big name sponsors to make that leap.
The team provides a gateway for young Irish talent to join the professional ranks where they can be mentored by a true great like Kelly - as generations of the past, starting out, generally had to join French or Belgian teams.
Mullen looks the most likely to make the step up in class, following in the footsteps of Sam Bennett.
With Ireland's hottest young talent Eddie Dunbar (18) impressing 'God' (what Kelly calls Eddy Merckx) recently at the Nations Cup, the future of Irish cycling is in a good place.
"It's up to the clubs to get kids out on the road," Kelly told me.
"If the Irish clubs are strong they will breed the talent."
an post Rás