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Cavendish’s new boss: No more ‘HTC-style’ sprint lead-outs

As Cavendish prepares to join his new teammates on Dimension Data, team principal Doug Ryder says "times have changed" for bunch sprints.

MILAN (VN) — Dimension Data says it will take a team to stage races that is suited to leading out sprinter Mark Cavendish, but also to winning mountain stages and jerseys as it did in the 2015 Tour de France.

“When we go to the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, we still want to win jerseys, mountain stages and give opportunities for riders to be successful, like we did in the Tour this year,” team principal Doug Ryder told VeloNews. “That style of racing and strategy is something we will continue even with Mark on the team.”

The South African-registered outfit signed the Tour’s all-time best sprinter in September, signaling a new chapter as it changes from title sponsor MTN to Dimension Data.

Ryder said cycling is a different sport than it was six years ago, when one of Cavendish’s former teams — HTC-Highroad — perfected the art of leading out a sprinter for victory in the closing kilometers of a stage.

“Times have changed. An HTC-style lead-out when you got 5 kilometers to go and smash it like that, that’s not possible anymore,” Ryder said.

The South African team boss met with the 30-year-old Brit the day after the Tour ended in Paris to iron out the details of a new contract that became official September 29. They met again at the 2016 Tour presentation last month. The entire 25-man team will gather for the first time ahead of the new season in three weeks.

Ryder said the goal is to remain diversified so that riders like American Tyler Farrar, Steve Cummings, and Edvald Boasson Hagen have opportunities alongside the team’s 11 improving Africans.

At the 2015 Tour, Cummings gave the team its first win on Nelson Mandela Day by surprising Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, and Eritrean teammate Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first African to wear the race’s polka-dot jersey for the best climber.

“He appreciates [this style of racing] and he wants that,” Ryder said of Cavendish. “He will get support when it suits him, and he will support others.”

Cavendish has racked up 26 Tour de France stage wins and earned the title of Tour’s best sprinter in history by French newspaper L’Equipe in 2012. In his heyday, he won six stages in the 2009 Tour. He earned five stage victories in both the 2010 and 2011 Tours.

In 2012, Cavendish switched from HTC-Highroad to Sky. The following year, he annulled his Sky contract early to join Belgian team Etixx-Quick-Step.

He now appears to have a setup like the one he had in Highroad. Along with Cavendish, Dimension Data signed lead-out men Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel. He will also have former teammates Boasson Hagen, Kanstantsin Siutsou, and Matt Brammeier on his new squad.

Ryder said his well-rounded team will use all of its skills in the closing kilometers of a stage to set up Cavendish — and perhaps others — for victories.

“Cycling has changed,” Ryder said. “There are many strong teams, lead-outs have a smaller number of riders and are more compact and powerful over shorter distances at the end. It’s not about riding on the front for 5 to 6 kilometers anymore, it’s about building into position and striking as late as possible, and that’s where you need riders with incredible bunch riding skills and incredible experience.”