Etixx-Quick Step has signed Dan Martin from Cannondale-Garmin on a two-year contract, a move that may push Mark Cavendish a step towards the exit door of the Belgian team.
Martin, currently third overall at the Vuelta, has won two Monuments – Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2013, and Il Lombardia last year – and also has stage wins at the Spanish Grand Tour and the Tour de France among his palmares.
The 29-year-old’s departure from Cannondale-Garmin follows that of 2012 Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal, who is off to Trek Factory Racing, while French rider Pierre Rolland is joining Jonathan Vaughters’ team from Europcar.
Etixx-Quick-Step CEO Patrick Lefevere said: "The arrival of Dan Martin is an important moment for the team.
“He's a guy who was able in the past to win one-day races, but also stage races. He has also been a GC contender at Grand Tours during his career. He is now 29 years old, so he is at the peak of his career.
“He had an unlucky 2015 early season, but it is clear in his most recent performances, even at La Vuelta, that he has a lot of spirit. For the team this is also a key addition because Martin can be a presence in the Ardennes Classics, alongside young French rider Julian Alaphilippe.
“His contributions can be two-fold for Julian. Julian can learn a lot from a seasoned veteran like him. At the same time, Martin is a guy who has proven he can win at the Ardennes. So the peloton respects his presence as a contender, and this alleviates some pressure for Julian.
“This can be a bit of an Ardennes 'dynamic duo.' Martin is a complete rider who is able to perform well in stage races, one-day-races, and grand tours, and we are excited to see what he can do with an Etixx - Quick-Step jersey on his back for the next two years."
While Lefevere did not mention the Tour de France specifically, it’s likely the team’s focus may switch to an overall challenge next year due to Martin’s presence, and with Cavendish out of contract at the end of the season, his days there may be numbered.
Martin, cousin to Sky’s Nicolas Roche, said: “I'm really excited to join the team, which has been a point of reference in cycling for years.
“I hope to be able to take the next step in my career with Etixx - Quick-Step. I would like to improve even more and establish consistency with my performances.
“I think I am entering an important moment of my career at my age. I feel I am stronger than ever, mentally and physically.
“Of course my season will be built around the Ardennes Classics, where I can join forces with Alaphilippe. I hope to teach him some things and help him to evolve as a rider, while playing protagonist when I have the opportunity.
“I also would like to do well in the stage races, and maybe try again once in a Grand Tour for a good classification. I think I have potential to be a factor in the Grand Tours, whether it be stage hunting or in the overall classification.
“I am motivated to add to my top career performances, while proudly wearing the team colours of Etixx-Quick-Step for the next two years."
Despite winning the points jersey at the 2013 Giro d’Italia in his first season with Etixx-Quick Step, Cavendish has not enjoyed the same success he found elsewhere.
As one of the world’s highest-profile riders – and until 2012, undoubtedly the best sprinter in the peloton – the team would have expected big victories from the Manxman, including stages of the Tour de France.
But in three years, Cavendish, winner of 26 career Tour de France stage wins, has only taken three of those for his current team – granted, he missed all but the opening day of the 2014 Tour after crashing in the opening day’s finale in Harrogate, but this year managed one stage victory compared to André Greipel’s four.
His wish to race on the track at Rio next year as he seeks the Olympic medal that has so far eluded him will has also brought him into conflict with his team manager.
MTN-Qhubeka and Trek Factory Racing are said to be among the teams vying for his signature.
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.