Mark Cavendish set to join Team Sky for 2012 season
Manx Missile to hook up with Great Britain team mates reports Daily Mail… so it must be true
Mark Cavendish is reportedly set to join Team Sky from HTC-Highroad for the 2012 season. Neither party has yet confirmed the news, with Team Sky saying that it will not comment on transfers until 1 August, while Cavendish said on Twitter that he is committed to HTC for the rest of this season.
The news was broken by Richard Moore, writing in the Daily Mail. The journalist is very close to Team Sky - his book, Sky's The Limit, following its first season, has just been published, making him a highly reliable source when it comes to issues surrounding the British ProTeam.
News of Cavendish's potential move came just hours after world cycling's governing body, the UCI, announced that it was relaxing transfer regulations to make it possible for riders to switch teams mid-season.
However, as mentioned above, Cavendish appears likely to see out the remainder of his contract with HTC-Highroad.
Last year, it was reported that the sprinter was unhappy with the fact that his earnings and bonuses at the US-based team had not been adjusted to reflect the success he has achieved over the last couple of years.
At the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Cavendish said: "I’m committed to a contract I signed a few years ago (but) there’s been no goodwill, no bonuses, nothing." He added that he thought he was "kind of abused for what I’ve achieved."
Money is unlikely to be an issue at Team Sky. The contract that has reportedly been offered to Cavendish reportedly sets his value at £1.5 million a year. Other teams with deep pockets rumoured to have been interested in Cavendish's signature in recent months include Katusha and the new Australian GreenEdge team.
Where the British ProTeam will have a problem is in convincing fans that signing Cavendish, who at HTC-Highroad has benefited from having a team built around him in Grand Tours, helping him secure 25 stage wins in the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta, can be reconciled with its stated aim when it launched in late 2009 of getting a British rider to win the Tour de France within the next five years.
That Team Sky possesses riders capable of forming as strong a leadout train as Cavendish has enjoyed up till now is in little doubt. This season, Ben Swift in particular has benefited from a more aggressive approach from Team Sky in chasing down breaks and taking control of races in the closing kilometres, helping him to stage wins in the Tour Down Under, Amgen Tour of California, and Tour de Romandie.
Moreover, should he join Sky, many of his fellow riders, assuming they are all still there next season, will be ones Cavendish will know well from riding alongside in the past, whether as part of the GB set-up or professionally at HTC-Highroad in its various previous incarnations, with past team mates there including Bradley Wiggins and Michael Barry.
At the same time, the future of two of those former Highroad team mates would be put into question if Cavendish did indeed join - Greg Henderson and Edvald Boasson Hagen, both of whom moved to Team Sky in the first place partly to move out of his shadow and gain opportunites they wouldn't otherwise have got due to their former team's focus on the Manxman.
Last year, Team Principal Dave Brailsford said that Team Sky wanted to move away from its "one rider, one race" focus in its debut season which saw it concentrate on Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France. If it is to stick to that approach, that means that some kind of compromise would need to be reached between Wiggins' podium aspirations and Cavendish's pursuit of the green jersey.
It could be, however, that moving to Team Sky might signal the start of a new phase in the 26-year-old Cavendish's career, with a new generation of sprinters coming through ready to challenge him, including Team Sky's own Ben Swift and Davide Appolonio, who ran him very close at the Giro, as well as Matt Goss, this year's Milan-San Remo winner, and Germany's John Degenkolb, who won two stages in last week's Dauphiné.
The latter pair, team mates of Cavendish at HTC-Highroad, both stand to gain if Cavendish should leave the team, although in Goss's case Greenedge is also likely to want to secure his services.
While his main aims for the next year, besides continuing to pick up stage wins in next month's Tour de France, are the World Championships and next year's Olympics, Cavendish has also hinted that he might want to concentrate more on the Spring Classics, and he has proved his pedigree not only by winning the 2009 Milan-San Remo but also by taking the Scheldeprijs in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
Off the road, joining Team Sky would also reunite Cavendish with many of those who helped guide him through his early years in the sport through the British Academy with whom he continues to work as part of the GB set-up, something that shouldn't be overlooked with the Olympic Games a little over 12 months away.
Assuming the deal is done and dusted, it's likely that Team Sky would announce Cavendish's signing on or soon after 1 August, the earliest date permitted by the UCI, and sanctions would apply if it did jump the gun and formally announce a signing before then.
There are some parallels with the flow of news ahead of Bradley Wiggins being confirmed as joining the team in late 2009, although unlike Cavendish he still had another year left on his contract with Garmin-Transitions, complicating the issue, Coming from a credible source with close ties to Team Sky, the story has a ring of truth while at the same time being deniable if needs be.
Moreover, with the news being reported ahead of the Tour de France and presented as a fait accompli, it should go a long way towards removing the speculation over Cavendish's future that would otherwise have overshadowed his participation in the race.
That might even be welcomed by HTC-Highroad which appears to be resigned to the fact that Cavendish will be moving on when his contract expires at the end of this season and whose owner Bob Stapleton is currently busy with trying to find a replacement sponsor for HTC, which is reportedly severing ties with the team at the end of this season.
Even if Cavendish didn't join Team Sky until next season, his first race alongside many of his new colleagues would be at the World Championships in Copenhagen in September, where Great Britain is currently on course to qualify a full complement of nine riders, most of whom would be likely to come from the ProTeam outfit.