Last week the self-proclaimed ‘Fastest Man in the World’ Mark Cavendish broke the worst kept secret in cycling and announced his arrival at Team Sky. This is a big deal.
When his team, HTC Highroad, announced their break up several months ago, the cycling world was plunged into months of gossip and conjecture. Who would the most successful sprinter for decades decide on? Whoever he chose would possess the envy of world cycling – the man who time again stormed to victory, stole the headlines and broke the records. He’s an explosive, guaranteed goal scorer. Whoever secured his signature would have to dig deep into their pockets but could be assured of a return, even if it was merely in star power. Sponsors love him for his media friendly image and the hype he creates all over Europe and in cycling, sponsors are gods. The saga dragged on for a seemingly unnecessary amount of time, but when we finally found out, most of us via an innocuous sounding tweet from the man himself, we were not shocked.
It is the obvious move for Cavendish. Like Team Sky itself, he is British; the best in the country, extremely ambitious and still young. He will be joining several of his Team GB compatriots; not to mention director Dave Brailsford. And despite of all their riches and progress, he could well be the final piece in their puzzle. For a high price, the biggest pro-cycling team in Britain have completed their arsenal of world class cyclists with what they were lacking: a sprinter with real flair.
The next year will see a lot of decisions made, however. Cavendish’s previous team, HTC Highroad, were a team on a much smaller budget who revolved around him and seemed merely to exist for his greater glory. They had hugely talented riders who almost all submitted themselves to be domestiques to him. They had no alternative and no plan b. Their famous ‘train’, which Team GB so brilliantly replicated at the World Championships, was a line of lead-out men with no ambition – other than to land him onto the finishing line. They did this time after time, and the repetition would have been boring if it had not been for the exhilarating way they executed it.
Team Sky however are emphatically not HTC Highroad. They have a carefully nurtured team of GC candidates and one day stage winners, who will want to serve their own interests. Cavendish can certainly win the team races – but it will mean something or somebody has to give. The biggest “somebody” is Bradley Wiggins, who unarguably holds British cycling’s biggest chance at winning the Tour de France for decades. There are concerns they may be mutually exclusive.
Team Sky, and unfortunately Rupert Murdoch’s repugnant Sky Corporation, are reportedly paying an unprecedented £2 million a year in wages to Cavendish and, although he will probably be worth it, they will need to reconcile his ambitions with a squad already full of talent and individuals. Dave Brailsford however, being a meticulous man of numbers and statistics, will not have green-lighted this transfer if he did not have a careful plan in place.
There is little doubt though that this is a huge signing for Team Sky. They have now added to their depth and strength with a flamboyant new figurehead in Cavendish. Next year will be pivotal, not just in terms of Cavendish’s career but maybe more importantly for his teammates. It is not just Wiggins who will want attention. Jostling for a share of glory are Geraint Thomas, Edvald Boassen Hagen, Alex Dowsett and Chris Froome – some of the most exciting young prospects in the world. All of these men are on demand on the world stage. If they are required to work towards Cavendish’s goals instead of their own, they may begin to look elsewhere.
This may of course be needless worry, ‘Cav’ has emphatically proved before that he is not quite your average cyclist and can hold off the best cyclists, without any teammates at all. With this support behind him, he can see off the doubters and prove that he can become the best cycling sprinter the world has ever seen. He’s edging up behind mercurial names like Lance Armstrong and Eddy Merckx in Tour de France stage wins, and may even overtake them soon. The British supporters have a gem in him, and 2012 will be his biggest year yet.