World champion Mark Cavendish has confirmed that he will be leaving Team Sky at the end of the season. The 27-year-old says he has been “very happy” at British ProTeam, and hopes that he can depart on friendly terms. Whether that proves to be the case may depend on whether or not the team requires Cavendish to pay a release fee from his contract, which has two years left to run.
Cavendish was speaking yesterday on the eve of the start of the 2012 Tour of Britain in Ipswich today. Last year, he won the opening and closing stages of that race. The latter win, in London, would prove to be his final one at HTC-Highroad, and his last win before becoming world champion a week later in Copenhagen.
“I want the best for British cycling, it has grown so much and we had this idea that we could have this British superteam that could win stages and dominate," reflected Cavendish, quoted on Telegraph.co.uk.
"Dave [Brailsford, team principal at Sky and performance director of British Cycling] sold me the idea last year but for some reason it hasn't worked out like that. It’s difficult to do.
"Winning the yellow jersey is the biggest thing in cycling, for me not to want a team and a company I love not to go and do the biggest thing would be wrong.
"But obviously it restricts me and what I can do as a professional cyclist myself. I have got this ambition of winning as many stages in the Tour de France as I can and I want to be somewhere I can do that. We had ambitions that can't work out.
"If they want to go and do it [win the overall in the Tour de France] again, why not? The yellow jersey is the biggest prize in sport, but Dave's stated ambitions are not really involving sprinters or a green jersey or stage wins so that puts me in a position where I am lost.
"Rather than kicking and screaming I hope we can come to an amicable solution and we can have the best for both parties.
"It's like a long distance relationship with a girl. Everything is great but you live apart and it can't work out. But you want to be friends and you would rather the best thing happens so that everything can remain good and that you can stay close.
"I've been very happy at Sky. I am still happy at Sky. It's the guys I grew up racing with, a management I grew up racing with. I don't want to compromise Sky and hopefully Sky won't compromise me.
"I've not said anything before, I've just heard things and read things. The Tour de France is hardest sprint event in the world and it became apparent this year that you can't go in with a two-pronged attack.
"I was incredibly proud to be part of that team that won a yellow – that was big thing in my career, it will go down as possibly the biggest thing of my career.
"I've got a two-year contract with Sky and it will be interesting to see what Dave says. Hopefully he won't keep me suppressed down. I don't want to keep Sky suppressed down either. I've heard talk of a release fee but I've known Dave since I was 14 and I don't think he will do that. Hopefully we can find an amicable solution," he concluded.
Speculation that Cavendish might seek a new employer for the 2013 season onwards began to build during the Tour de France, where he played the unaccustomed role of domestique for much of the race to support Bradley Wiggins’ ambitions of winning the maillot jaune.
Without the support he had enjoyed in previous years at HTC-Highroad, there was never a realistic prospect of Cavendish defending the points classification he had won 12 months earlier. He did secure three stage wins, but two of those came in the closing days of the race, after the mountains, by which time Wiggins’ overall victory was all but assured.
While Cavendish himself had said that there was no reason he couldn’t win both the green jersey and Olympic gold on the road in London a week after the Tour finished, Brailsford had made it clear earlier in the year that Wiggins would be the priority at the Tour, with Cavendish enjoying full support in the Olympic road race, won by Alexandre Vinokourov after a big breakaway group got away on the final circuit of Box Hill. After the Tour, Brailsford had said he wouldn’t stand in Cavendish’s way if he decided to ride elsewhere in 2013.
With the demise of his former HTC-Highroad team at the end of 2011 meaning staying put was not an option for Cavendish, the overlap between the respective set-ups of British Cycling and Team Sky meant that the latter was always the logical choice for him during a year that presented a once-in-a-lifetime chance to race in a home Olympics.
The reality of the situation now is that with Team Sky having sharpened its focus over the past 12 months on chasing GC in one-week races and Grand Tours, culminating in that historic win by Wiggins in Paris in July, there is no possibility of it giving Cavendish the support he needs and deserves, particularly in the Tour.
BMC Racing, Katusha and Omega Pharma-Quick Step are considered the teams at the head of the queue for his signature, and each would be able to better accommodate him within their set-up than has proved to be the case with Sky.
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.