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Following a total of seven years racing with the WorldTour HTC Colombia, GreenEdge and IAM Cycling squads, Leigh Howard is moving to the new Irish Pro Continental squad Aqua Blue Sport.
He and IAM Cycling teammate Stefan Denifl are amongst seven riders announced on Monday, joining four others previously confirmed last week.
Also coming on board is 23 year old Australian Calvin Watson, a former Trek Factory Racing rider who competed this year with the An Post Chainreaction squad.
Howard won the Clasica de Almeria and a stage of the Tour des Fjords this season, as well as netting second in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. The sprinter also took the Trofeo Campos and Trofeo Platja de Muro races in 2013.
“I want to win races of course,” said the 26 year old. “But cycling is a team sport so success comes from a team point of view.
“For Aqua Blue Sport success won’t just mean podium places – we’re a new name so we’ll need to prove ourselves, and prove that we deserve to be up there as a pro team.”
Also confirmed on Monday were 23 year old Watson, the Dutchmen Michel Kreder and Peter Koning, New Zealand’s Aaron Gate and 2012 Olympic omnium champion Lasse Norman Hansen of Denmark.
Denifl is a strong climber and placed fourth in the mountains classification in this year’s Giro d’Italia. He won the same competition in the 2015 Tour de Suisse.
The 29 year old said that in addition to personal ambition, he also wanted to help the younger riders on the team to benefit from the experience he has built up during stints with the Cervélo Test Team, Leopard Trek, Vacansoleil DCM and IAM Cycling.
“We have to grow and fight as a team and success will come with that,” he said. “Personally I am looking forward to a good preparation for 2017 and a year where I will be at my best. I am highly motivated to achieve my goals and the team’s goals, on and off the bike.”
The team is owned by Irish businessman Rick Delaney, a passionate cycling enthusiast who has trained with professional riders near his home in Monaco. He has made an initial four-year commitment to the sport, and wants to secure a WorldTour licence in the second half of that block.
Denifl said that his vibes are good about the new team.
“From first contact onwards, the people behind this team have shown great motivation, professionalism and a new vision for a cycling team.”
“I feel that Aqua Blue Sport believes in me as a rider and as a person, and this is the environment that I want for my future development.”
Howard is similarly enthusiastic.
“I love the idea of being part of an Irish team. I raced in the Tour of Ireland in 2009 and absolutely loved every minute of it, apart from the rain. To be a part of the first Pro Conti team to come out of Ireland is really exciting, even though I’m not Irish!” he said.
Former Jayco Herald Sun Tour winner Watson will hope to get his career back on track after a very quiet season in 2016.
Last week the squad announced the signings of Sky’s Lars Petter Nordhaug, plus a trio of Irish riders. These are former world scratch race champion Martyn Irvine, multiple Irish champion Matt Brammeier (Team Dimension Data) and Conor Dunne (JLT Condor).