Given the last few weeks that professional cycling has had, you’d be forgiven if you missed Mark Cavendish’s announced move from Team Sky last week.
The 27 year old Manxman is to part company with the Tour de France winning team at the end of 2012, as part of a mutual decision to end his three year contract early. Starting in 2013, he will ride for the Belgian pro tour team Omega Pharma Quickstep. Sky’s heavy links with the seemingly ever dominant British Cycling, a management structure that has known Cavendish intimately through his formative years and the fact that they are the first team to field a British winner of the Tour de France all seem like reasons to stay. To fans however, Cavendish’s decision wasn’t a surprise at all.
It is easy to forget that prior to this summer’s fantastic foray into the French countryside, Cavendish was the original pin-up boy for this wonderful phase in British road cycling. Before having cool sideburns, there was being square jawed, before dressing like a mod and having a brilliant swagger there was being insanely self confident and dating a page three girl. And before a yellow jersey, there were twenty Tour de France stage victories, a Green Jersey and a world championship title to boot.
Cavendish became, in the years running up to the formation of Team Sky, the reality of British success on the road. His decision to join Team Sky was at the time an understandable one – the idea of a British team with all the British talent in it, targeting both the Yellow and Green jerseys was a very juicy one. In a recent interview, Cavendish has stated that it was Sky team principal David Brailsford who convinced him that winning both Jerseys really was a possibility – a feat last achieved by Team Telekom in 1997.
Unfortunately, the one year spent with Team Sky has been a frustrating one – virtually abandoned in the mountains of the Tour de France, Cavendish managed to gain three stage wins. Performing a super-domestique role, viewers were treated to the strange sight of a World Champion stuffing his Rainbow Jersey full of water bottles. Bradley Wiggins’ lead out on the Champs Elysees was a clear tribute to the dedication of ‘Cav’, whose ambitions had been downgraded in the pursuit of the yellow jersey. The romance of an all conquering British team was quickly lost and a man used to winning was no longer the focal point.
His decision to move to Omega Pharma Quickstep is a natural one – Cav will once again be reunited with Brian Holm, a man who played a large part in Cavendish’s success at previous team HTC Highroad. Omega Pharma Quickstep are a team that focus on stage wins, not overall classifications. Their aims are the Spring Classic one-day races and individual days in the grand tours. He will also have a team that will be based largely around him, and a dedicated lead out train. The gap that Cavendish has filled at Omega Pharma Quickstep has been left by the sacking of Levi Leipheimer due to his role in the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. An ageing Tom Boonen is no longer Quickstep’s primary sprinter, instead favouring races that require long range individual effort.
Cavendish’s decision serves to highlight the complexities of team cycling. Cavendish is the fastest man on two wheels on the circuit right now, but without the team to back him up he has fallen short of his own high standards. At Omega Pharma Quickstep, he should have the team to help him deliver. His decision is a sensible one – his chances of another Green Jersey, and even more stage wins have just increased.