Mark Cavendish has confirmed that he will join Team Sky have confirmed the signing of the world champion Mark Cavendish, bringing an end to several months of speculation that the world's leading sprinter would join the British squad, whose roots lie in the Olympic track cycling team where he won his first spurs.
The Manxman, winner of 20correct stages in the Tour de France, and winner this year of the points winner's green jersey, will form a British "dream team" alongside Bradley Wiggins, with whom he raced to a world title on the track in 2008. The price Sky have paid for Cavendish has not been revealed, but rumours in May put it at over £1.5m, and his value will have increased since then.
Sky have also signed Cavendish's former HTC-Highroad domestique and close friend Bernie Eisel. The 30-year-old Austrian has been credited with playing a vital role in HTC's heralded sprint train.
"Obviously I'm very happy," said the Sky team head Dave Brailsford. "As a guy who has come through our academy and worked so closely and so well with [Sky race coach] Rod Ellingworth, it makes sense for him to work within the system he knows. From a performance perspective what I really like about it is that he is an out and out winner. He's brought that attitude to every team he's ridden for, and I don't think anyone should underestimate that.
"He is a British world road champion: who would have thought a year and a half into the Team Sky project that we would have the rainbow jersey in the team going into our third season?"
Who indeed, but it should be remembered that it was Cavendish's results in his first season as a professional, 2007, that gave Brailsford the belief that British cyclists could compete at the highest level in Europe, in numbers. That in turn prompted the Great Britain Pperformance Ddirector to put together the pro team project that attracted Sky's attention. In that sense, Cavendish is coming home.
Following the Manxman's world championship win in Copenhagen at the end of September, there were indications that the deal with Sky – believed to have been verbally agreed for some time – might be going cold. There were rumours from Belgium that the world champion might go to a team based around the current Quick-Step squad, which has hired his confidant, the HTC directeur sportif Brian Holm.
The Sky deal has obvious implications for next year's London Olympic Games, where Cavendish will start as the big favourite in the road race, on the opening day of competition. "When we started with Team Sky everyone questioned the dual role of the team, did it conflict, and they couldn't see the advantage, but in Mark's case when you look at the Olympic road race we can make sure he has an optimal programme going into 2012," said Brailsford.
"Previously we would have been negotiating with his pro team, hoping that they would have empathy with us, because they would consider he had different goals. As it is, he can ride all the start of next year alongside some of the British riders who are likely to support him in the Games."
One of the questions over the Cavendish deal – raised frequently by fans – is whether Sky will be able to reconcile having the world's best sprinter, and the green jersey winner in the Tour de France, with their goal of putting a British rider on the podium. That discussion is now a little more urgent after a leaked version of the 2012 Tour de France route indicated that it may well suit Wiggins or Chris Froome.
Brailsford believes that having twin goals in the Tour is of benefit. "It generates so much discussion, so much debate, can we win the green, can we win yellow? I don't think it is impossible. We performed across the board this year and having Cavendish in the team will strengthen us. What is important from the outset is that every rider understands what we are going to try to achieve and how we are going to try to do it. They will have to understand their roles and responsibilities, but that's down to good planning and preparation."
In the longer term, the Sky head believes that getting Cavendish on board will permit his team to develop British talent in the longer term. "At the top end, we've got British guys performing now – Cav, Wiggins, Millar, Froome, Geraint Thomas – and what I'm keen to do is build a younger group, 22 to 25 years old, allow them to grow and develop together for a couple of seasons. Then we will be a force to be reckoned with."
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