With the 2011 road racing season heading towards its conclusion, there’s still no news on where world champion Mark Cavendish will be riding in 2012, with speculation building in recent days that his rumoured move to Team Sky has hit a stumbling block and that he may instead make a surprise move to the Belgian team, Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
Team Sky provided six members of the British team that helped Cavendish win the rainbow jersey in Copenhagen, and also employs members of the British Cycling set-up including the Manxman’s own personal coach Rod Ellingworth, who spent the last three year’s masterminding the project that resulted in victory in Copenhagen.
With Cavendish’s chief goal for 2012 being winning gold in the road race at the London Olympics, a switch to Team Sky would appear to be as near a certainty as you’d find in sport – or at least in a sport less complicated than professional cycling.
The fact is, that since news of the 26-year-old’s proposed move was first broken back in June by journalist Richard Moore, someone who is particularly close to Team Sky, there have been a number of significant changes involving both parties.
First, there is Bob Stapleton’s decision to shut down the HTC-Highroad team, meaning that staying put isn’t an option for Cavendish. As a rider, he’s renowned for the meticulous preparation he puts into races he is targeting to win, so you’d not expect him to rush into signing for the first team that made him a decent offer.
Secondly, Cavendish’s stock has continued to rise. Since June, he’s won both the points jersey in the Tour de France, and the world champion’s rainbow jersey. If Sport Pro magazine ranked him the world’s 35th most marketable athlete back in May, he has to be inside the top 20 now. That means he has more bargaining power than ever before with both sponsors and prospective employers.
Moreover, as of late last month, he has a new agency working on his behalf to negotiate those deals – the Los Angeles-based Wasserman Media Group. As a global agency, and one not confined to the narrow world of professional cycling, Wasserman will be in a position to help Cavendish assess his worth as an internationally recognised sportsman, not just as a cyclist.
Then, there’s the impact of transfers already announced that would appear to take teams previously linked to Cavendish, albeit ones with deep pockets, out of the running for his signature.
BMC Racing may have a habit of picking up world champions as though they’re going out of fashion, but with Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert – a comparative rarity on the team since he can’t sport the rainbow bands on his sleeves – joining Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, their shopping spree appears to be over even if they somehow could make Cavendish fit into that line-up.
As for the next year’s debutant outfit GreenEdge, another team with which Cavendish has been linked, they’ve signed his HTC-Highroad team mate, Milan-San Remo winner Matt Goss, the man who finished second to him in Copenhagen. It’s difficult to see an Australian team with a confirmed Australian sprinting talent go for Cavendish at this stage.
The situation with Team Sky is also perhaps more complicated than it was back in June. Some saw the rumours of Cavendish joining the team as a kind of admission by the team’s management that its original aim – getting a British rider onto the top step of a Grand Tour podium – was too ambitious.
Last month’s performance in the Vuelta by Bradley Wiggins, who finished third, and even more so by runner-up Chris Froome, who has since signed a new contract with the British team, has changed that; Team Sky have proved without doubt that they can compete in a three-week Grand Tour, and they can build on that.
That in itself potentially changes the dynamics of the situation from Cavendish’s point of view; can he have confidence that a team will be fully behind his own ambitions to win another Tour de France green jersey, say, if going into the final week of the race it is looking to defend another rider’s place on GC?
The Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf, has today reported that while Cavendish was said to have agreed an oral contract with Team Sky, nothing has been put in writing; Team Principal Dave Brailsford is quoted as describing the situation as “complicated.”
Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, meanwhile, has Omega Pharma-Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere playing down rumours that Cavendish is headed its way, speculation that has been fuelled by a number of factors including HTC-Highroad directeur sportive Brian Holm joining the Belgian team.
Further complicating the issue is that Omega Pharma-Quick Step will be riding Specialized bikes next year, although as pointed out on the Inner Ring blog, the initial press release from the bike company has mysteriously disappeared (the comments to the blog post also make illuminating reading regarding the wealth of competing interests involved in any potential transfer).
Back at Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Lefevere has admitted to Het Nieuwsblad that he spoke to Cavendish’s team mate and close friend Bernie Eisel, who appears almost certain to go to the same team as the Manxman, and who told him that he and Cavendish had been signed by Sky.
Whether or not that is true, until there is official confirmation one way or another – and there needs to be by 20 October, when the transfer window comes to a close - speculation regarding the world champion’s future will persist.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.