Mark Cavendish chose the eve of the Tour of Britain to confirm the biggest rumour in world cycling by admitting he wants to leave Team Sky for another team who will place his priorities first.
The 27-year-old World Champion and 2011 Tour de France Green Jersey winner rode for Team Sky for his first and seemingly last Tour de France in July, a frustrated figure who watched his new team throw most of their energies into helping Bradley Wiggins become the first British cyclist in the 104-year running of the race to win the Tour.
Cavendish, the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner, has been looking to hold talks with Sky’s General Manager Dave Brailsford to extricate himself from a contract with still two and half years remaining without any success. He is confident, however, that the meeting will finally happen this week during the running of the Tour of Britain, and equally confident that Brailsford, the man who masterminded both Team Sky’s Tour de France success and Team GB’s golden horde of medals at both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and last month’s London Games, will accommodate his desire to leave.
“Dave sold me the idea that Team Sky could dominate on all fronts but it hasn’t worked out like that,” Cavendish admitted in Ipswich, where the Tour of Britain begins tomorrow. “It’s a difficult thing to do. The biggest thing in cycling is to win the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France. It’s the biggest symbol in the sport. It would be wrong of me not to want the best for Team Sky and for British cycling but me staying with the team restricts both them and also what I want to do. I have an ambition to win as many stages of the Tour as I can. Team Sky is restricting me as a professional cyclist. They want to win the Yellow Jersey again and, why not? It would take someone wrong with their mind to get in the way of that. Dave’s not interested in winning the Green Jersey or individual stages and that leaves me lost.”
This is the first time Cavendish has spoken on the subject, after the huge disappointment of finishing in 29th place in the Olympic road race, leaving him still without an elusive Olympic medal. He then raced in the Tour of Denmark, faces this week’s Tour of Britain and then the World Championships in Holland later this month on a hilly course where he will struggle to successfully defend his title.
By next month he hopes to have had the impasse with Team Sky resolved and he will be free to leave and join a new team in readiness for 2013. In order to do this he hopes, and expects, Brailsford to waive any compensation and to not stand in his way. “I’ve known Dave since I was 14,” he explained. “This is the first time I’ve spoken about the subject. Everyone else, including Dave, have had their say. I’ve heard about the speculation over compensation or Dave holding me to my contract but I’m sure that won’t happen and that it can be sorted amicably. I just can’t see Dave doing that.”
Privately Cavendish is far from happy in the way Team Sky was sold to him, nor in the manner he feels he has been treated, but publicly the World Champion still wants to make his leaving as friendly as possible.
“I guess it’s like a long-term relationship with a girl that needs to end but you still want to be friends,” he added. “I still love the team, Dave, my teammates, and what we’ve achieved. I’m incredibly proud to have been part of a team that won the Tour de France Yellow Jersey. It’s a big thing in my career. I really hope we can get this resolved as amicably as possible. It hasn’t worked out for me, and I have no problem with what Team Sky want to do next year.”
Cavendish will be aware that Team Sky have already stated that next year’s aim will be a successful defence of the yellow jersey. With champion Wiggins and runner up Chris Froome in the team they have the tools to make a concerted effort, leaving a cyclist such as Cavendish, who wants to win sprint stages and the Green Jersey, out in the cold again. He currently stands on 24 stage wins, which places him fourth in the all-time list, and the best sprinter in history. The legendary Belgian, Eddie Merckx, leads with 36 stage wins.
Cavendish’s public announcement will have some of the biggest teams in the Tour de France scrambling for his signature. I understand that BMC head the queue, seeing the Manx Missile as an albeit different replacement for their tiring 2010 Tour winner, Australian Cadel Evans. They would also not baulk at Cavendish’s £1.5 million annual wage. Katusha, the Russian team with oligarch funding are also keen, as are Omega Pharma Quickstep, while Liquigas, Rabobank and Lampre have also all expressed an interest.
All of which overshadows the fact that the Tour of Britain began yesterday and ends next Sunday and features, apart from Cavendish, Wiggins on his first professional outing since winning the Tour de France and following it up with the Olympic time trial gold medal.
“It’s great to have Brad here as the Tour De France winner and the rainbow jersey holder as well,” Cavendish added. “It will be a celebration of all the great things that have happened to the sport in this country over the past few years.”