If you have got into cycling recently having been inspired by the Bradley Wiggins boom, then he is naturally going to be your cycling god. For me, however, this title is reserved for one man only. That man is Mark Cavendish.
Back when cycling stoked my interest, the Manx Missile was constantly hitting his targets at then-team HTC-Highroad. With a full lead out train, he would win stages which were not even designed for sprinters.
Individuals such as Lars Bak, Peter Velits and Tony Martin hammered it out for Cavendish on the front, Bernie Eisle drove him up the mountains and Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw took control in the stage’s twilight.
It was this lead out train that delivered the Missile to its target of stage wins, and ultimately, the green jersey in the Tour de France. For a short period of time, HTC-Highroad held both world champions jerseys. Cavendish in the road race and Tony Martin in the time trial.
But then it all fell apart. Cavendish refused the offer of a new contract, leaving a team with a fully assembled lead out train, but without a sprinter to deliver to the line. To make matters worse, in losing its star, Highroad was also abandoned by its main sponser HTC as it did not want to fund a team which wasn’t winning. Thus HTC-Highroad was over, but what of the man at the centre of the drama?
Along with most other people from these isles, I knew where Cavendish was going. The relatively new Team Sky offered the 27 year old a contract that he could not refuse. I am not just talking about the wages.
Seeing as the majority of Team GB at the World Championships and Olympic Games were from Team Sky (as was the Team Principle, Dave Brailsford), I believe that an unwritten clause in Cavendish’s contract was the promise of Sky placing delivering Cavendish to the line for a world champion’s jersey and a medal at London 2012.
Although the latter did not come to pass, Team GB really did not hold anything back in the road race. Having said this, Team GB performed as well as they could, given that everyone knew their tactics, the lack of timing information and the other team’s inability to work on the front.
However, one factor was not taken into account. Cavendish was no longer top dog, so he would now be second on a list of high ambitions. Namely, a Tour de France win for the team leader, Bradley Wiggins, who duly delivered. Team Sky have made no secret they will stay this way for the next Tour, too.
Cavendish was accepting of this. ‘Cav told us there was no point in bringing them back today, what with the hills tomorrow,’ Wiggins said in the aftermath of a breakaway victory. His team-mate was also seen working as a domestic on the foothills of climbs, and bringing bottles to the rest of the team.
So Cavendish faded away in the chase for a green jersey, which was worn by the new kid on the block, Peter Sagan - a hybrid sprinter and all-rounder, who picked up three stage wins and intermediate sprints no normal sprinter would win – for almost the entire Tour. And Andre Grepiel, who had a full Lotto-Belisol lead out train, not quite as successful as HTC’s, but still good enough to win their main three stages.
Meanwhile, Cavendish picked up, by his previous standards, a modest three stages (compared to six in 2009, five the following year and another five in 2011). The point which I am trying to get across is that he only has one career, and if Cavendish wants to compete with Sagan and Grepiel, he needs to move. Then, however, comes the question - where to?
It is a well know fact that Cavendish’s contract has a giant release clause, but would any team want to pay it? The answer is probably no.
Sky are the Manchester City of cycling and have unparalleled riches, which is why they have the sport’s best team. Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins finished first and second on the podium of the Tour de France. What does that tell you?
This is why there has been talk of Cavendish paying his own release clause. He now has a decision to make. Will Cavendish opt for money, or wins?
If he were to leave, many teams would be willing to take him on, including Omega Pharma-Quick Step, who have Peter Velitis and Tony Martin, formerly part of the successful lead out train at HTC.
Another team that is being discussed is Rabobank, boasting Mark Renshaw, whose solo career as a sprinter is not going to plan. The list goes on, but will he move? We will have to wait and see if the Tour de France’s most successful sprinter will go. It is in his best interests to, after all.
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