Sunday 16 December 2018

Under-pressure Kelly hopes to know future of team in next 48 hours

Sean Kelly. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean Kelly. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciarán Lennon

Seán Kelly expects to know in the next 48 hours if his An Post-Chain Reaction team will be on the road next year.

The team's general manager is in a race against time to find a new title sponsor for 2018 and is already 10 days beyond the self-imposed deadline he had set for finalising a sponsorship agreement.

A bank guarantee and paperwork have to be in place with Cycling Ireland and UCI by October 31, although Kelly is also hopeful that that deadline could be extended to get a deal over the line.

The Carrick-on-Suir man, along with Kurt Bogaerts, the team's principal directeur sportif, are still in negotiations with two potential sponsors, one from Ireland and one from Spain, but external forces such as Brexit and the Catalonia independence movement have muddied the waters and delayed a final decision.

"Yes, I thought that a week or 10 days ago (a decision would be made)," Kelly told the Irish Independent yesterday. "But there was some new information requested, about going forward on a longer than one-year deal. Because that's what we're trying to do, we're trying to get more than a one-year deal. So in the next two or three days we should be at yes or no.

"We're still in there, you're in discussions with them. It looks very much like it could happen and then they come up with something else that puts a bit of doubt on it. It's been to-ing and fro-ing a lot, at the moment I'm still hoping.

"They are very interested in becoming involved in cycling, in sponsorship, so that's a plus sign."

The future of the team, which has produced talented professional Irish riders such as Sam Bennett and Ryan Mullen, has been in doubt since the announcement in May that An Post were to end their 10-year association with the team.

Now Kelly is up against it, but the 61-year-old Waterford man insists the deal must still be right for his Continental team and if it doesn't come together for 2018, he would plan to resurrect the team for 2019.

"The 2018 (deal) has been a problem, to get that over the line," he admitted.

"We've been looking at the budget, and he's (Bogaerts) keen to continue next year but I've said to him, 'Look, if it's not right, there's no point in doing it'.

"If it's not right for the riders and we can't get the right programme (of races), I'd prefer not to do that.

"If all eventualities come that we can't go ahead next year, that it doesn't fit at all, then we just have to look at it, maybe taking a year out and try and get organised for the following year."

Another concern for Kelly is that his principal partner throughout the team's existence, the highly-regarded Bogaerts, will have other options on the table for 2018.

The Belgian has been the hands-on driving force within the team and he's turned down offers in the past to stay involved with the project that has a reputation as one of the best development teams in cycling.

"He's been the workhorse of the team, I've been negotiating with sponsors and that, but through the seasons, he's been looking after the team and looking after the riders, more so.

"He's very focused and committed and he likes doing that," said Kelly.

"He's been approached and he has had enquiries about whether he'd be interested in taking a directeur sportif role elsewhere, if the team is not going forward.

"We've talked about that and he said he wants to see if the team can go ahead or not next year before making a decision."

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