The An Post Chainreaction team has confirmed its fifth Irish rider for the 2016 season, with national road race champion Damien Shaw making a breakthrough at 31 years of age.
Shaw has been one of the strongest domestic riders in recent seasons and was pushing for a chance to race internationally with a UCI-registered team.
He showed his class in the An Post Rás in May when he placed second, second and third on the final three stages.
He then clocked up another fine display against more experienced competitors when he won the National Road Race Championships at the end of June.
These performances helped net him the accolade as best domestic-placed Irish rider at Cycling Ireland’s recent awards, but the An Post Chainreaction deal is a much bigger prize.
“I first started out racing as a hobby and a means to stay fit and never thought it would lead to this,” said Shaw.
“After putting in a few consistent rides and achieving some good results this year, I’m over the moon to have the opportunity to concentrate on racing full-time.”
Shaw joins compatriots Jack Wilson, David Montgomery, Connor McConvey and Daniel Stewart on the team, as well as nine foreign riders.
It will continue to be based in Belgium and to compete regularly in UCI races in Europe.
"We had been keeping a close eye on Damien's results throughout the year and we could see huge potential in him," said team manager Kurt Bogaerts.
“I think by giving him the freedom to be in the saddle full time he will make huge strides. I have no doubt of that. He’s got a great mentality and a real hunger to succeed. It’s an exciting time for both An Post Chain Reaction and for him.”
Of the Irish riders who were with the team in 2015, only Wilson remains. Indeed, next season is one that will bring many changes, with 11 out of the 14 riders new to the team.
This may mean the squad will need time to fully synchronise its efforts in races, but Bogaerts remains optimistic.
“Obviously, we have seen a quite a lot of wholesale changes in the camp this year and it won’t be without its challenges,” he said.
“But what we have in the new crop is a group who are highly motivated and hungry for success. They’ll be ready to put the shoulder to the wheel and put in some hard work. That’s all I can ask.
“I’m sure that this group will continue to be competitive and achieve some great results next year. We’re looking forward to next season already.”
Meanwhile several Irish competitors are in action at the New Zealand round of cycling's track World Cup this weekend.
The women's team pursuit squad was due to begin its campaign late yesterday, while sprinter Eoin Mullen is in action on Saturday evening Irish time. Shannon McCurley will also compete in the women's keirin on the same day.
All are vying to qualify for the Olympic Games, but the men's pursuit squad have unfortunately missed out. Ditto for former world champion Martyn Irvine, who was hoping to ride in that event plus the omnium in Rio.