Mark Cavendish is to leave Team Sky and will ride for Omega Pharma Quick-Step (OPQS) next year. The not unexpected announcement was made this afternoon on Skysports.com (and you'd think they'd know).
Cavendish has apparently signed a three year deal with the Belgian outfit and will become the main focus of the team for the coming seasons. Cavendish will have spent only one year at Team Sky during that time he won 15 races and took the first overall stage race win of his career a the Ster ZLM Tour last June.
Sky team principal, Dave Brailsford, paid tribute to his soon to be ex-rider in a statement announcing Cavendish's exit:
"Mark has been a true champion for Team Sky this year.
“It’s been an honour having the rainbow jersey in this team and great to work so closely with a rider I’ve known since he was a junior.
“He has been a real team player, making history in a Tour de France winning team.
“Cav won 15 races with us, including his first stage race, three Tour stages, and the fourth win in his unbeaten run on the Champs Elysees.
“The sight of him winning in Paris, with the yellow jersey leading out the world champion - both in Team Sky kit - is something you’ll never forget.
“Mark also gets what Team Sky stands for and has been a real ambassador, on and off the bike, helping to inspire more people to ride and to love this sport.
“We all wish Mark the very best with his future ambitions in a new team and as British rider.”
The move to OPQS will mean that Cavendish will be backed by a team aiming to secure him the Green Jersey at next year's Tour de France. With the 2014 edition of the Tour starting with a racing stage - strongly tipped to be set-up for a bunch sprint - it also holds up the intriguing prospect that Cavendish may get to join the select band of riders who have worn the leader's jersey in all three grand tours.
It is not as yet clear whether Bernie Eisel will also be leaving Sky to join Cavendish on his new team - the Austrian rider has been described by Cavendish as his "guardian angel" and the two are something of a double act with Eisel's job to get Cavendish to the business end of the stage without mishap - something he successfully did at HTC before joining Team Sky.
Even if Eisel doesn't join him at OPQS, Cavendish certainly won't be without familiar faces around him - Matt Brammeir, Gerald Ciolek, Bert Grabsch, Tony Martin, Frantisek Rabon, Martin Velits, Peter Velits and Brian Holm, the OPQS DS, were all part of the T-Mobile/HTC Columbia set-up while Cavendish was there, and were all on the 2012 OPQS roster.
Given the resources at their disposal it seem likely that the OPQS strategy for 2013 will be to attack the classics with a team built around Tom Boonen - who was in blistering form last spring - and then back Cavendish to add to his total of 23 Tour de France stage wins and take the Tour's green jersey for the points classification.
This year Cavendish sacrificed his green jersey hopes to ride for the team and to put Bradley Wiggins in the yellow jersey. While Cavendish still managed to pick up some notable stage wins along the way - including a fourth win in a row on the Champs Elysees - it became apparent that this was not a situation that would satisfy the Manx Missile in future editions of the race.
Team Sky though were clearly set up as a a team riding to win the general classification and it was made clear by team boss Brailsford during the race that the overall would continue to be Sky's focus in coming years.
Given that situation it was only a matter of time before Cavendish left and the surprise was not that rumours of his imminent departure began to issue from both the rider and the team, but that they did so even before the Tour de France had ended and ahead of the Olympic road race - which some observers felt was the real reason Cavendish joined the British team in the first place.
It is to both the Sky management and Cavendish's credit that his exit from the team has been handled in such an amicable and business-like manner.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.