* Update, 12:54pm: well that didn't last long! Read all about Cav officially signing for Astana here, and if you'd still like to see some gloriously amateur-ish Cav photoshopping, feel free to keep scrolling.
It’s been a long, hard few months for those in the ‘Where is Mark Cavendish going to end up in 2023?’ business.
Since the former world champion’s controversial omission from Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s Tour de France squad – while on the cusp of a historic 35th Tour stage win, in case you weren’t paying attention – Cavendish’s future has been the subject of a constant whirlwind of rumours, speculation, and innuendo.
There have been speculative links to sponsor events, buddy photos with Israel Premier-Tech riders, Instagram messages from Paris, briskly organised Zoom calls, and, as the ambitious but ultimately doomed B&B Hôtels project (of which Cavendish was set to be the figurehead and leader on the road) fell down around the ears of the French team’s boss Jérôme Pineau, even rumours of a possible retirement.
While the Manx rider remained studiously silent throughout the tumultuous unfolding of the B&B fiasco, leaks have appeared faster than a HTC-High Road lead-out train ever since Alexander Vinokourov, the controversial manager of Astana Qazaqstan, declared his interest in the sprinter he first clapped eyes on when Cavendish was just a promising, cherubic neo-pro back in 2006.
> Mark Cavendish spotted with Astana Qazaqstan car at Alicante airport
Just before Christmas, we saw grainy, inconclusive images of a rider wearing what appeared to be a British champion’s jersey riding what appeared to be an Astana-branded Wilier near the Kazakh team’s training camp in Calpe.
Much more conclusively, on Friday night former CyclingTips editor-in-chief Caley Fretz shared a photo of the 37-year-old loading up an Astana Qazaqstan team car with luggage at Alicante airport.
And then, yesterday afternoon Eurosport journalist Benoît Vittek tweeted that the two-time Tour green jersey winner was spotted, wearing his Isle of Man kit, training near Altea, where Astana will soon congregate for their January camp.
And, just to top it all off, Cavendish – wearing some retro HTC gear – was also snapped at the Amex Stadium on Saturday, celebrating Brighton and Hove Albion’s 3-0 drubbing of out-of-sorts Liverpool (okay, we might have made that one up).
While Cav’s move to Astana appears set in stone, we reckon there’s still plenty of time for the British champion to be spotted out and about before any deal is finalised and we see a photo of him standing beside a smiling Vino in an out-of-season Spanish hotel.
So, with that in mind, we put our heads (and our rudimentary Photoshopping skills) together in the road.cc office to imagine what the Manx Missile may get up to before he officially dons that famous sky blue jersey.
Take a trip to the Great Wall of China
With China dropping its quarantine restrictions for international arrivals, perhaps Cav could squeeze in a quick holiday before the new season starts?
Head to Stamford Bridge for a big money move to Chelsea
As American neo-Glazer Todd Boehly continues to splash the cash in the hope of reinvigorating Graham Potter’s stuttering squad, I wouldn’t put it past him plumping for a short-term loan deal for cycling’s greatest ever sprinter. After all, Chelsea desperately need someone who can find gaps where there don’t appear to be any…
Play a few games at the Australian Open
The opening grand slam of the tennis season got under way yesterday at Melbourne Park – maybe Cav will pop in for a few games of doubles before heading north to cheer on his new teammates at the Tour Down Under?
Belt out a few bars in the Masked Singer
This one isn’t actually too far-fetched, considering one of Cav’s old Madison partners, a certain Bradley Wiggins, was rumoured to be taking part in the inexplicably popular celebrity singing show a couple of weeks back (and yes, Masked Singer fans, that is Martin Kemp’s body…).
So, what do you think? Where will Cav next be spied before his official unveiling as an Astana rider?
And will cycling’s worst kept secret finally – finally – be revealed today?
Let’s hope so, as that’s the extent of my Photoshop abilities…
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Surely, that should be: They would have.