Mark Cavendish’s departure leaves a little breathing room for Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen

The Norwegian will be the top sprinter on a team that's still focused on GC the grand tours

The departure of Mark Cavendish will open up more space for Norwegian star Edvald Boasson Hagen at Team Sky.

While the team’s focus on the grand tours prompted Cavendish’s exit after a tumultuous season at Sky, the 25-year-old Norwegian stays put with the British outfit and will see more chances to race for victory despite Sky’s focus on winning stage races.

Boasson Hagen looks forward to being back in the role of Sky’s top sprinter with Cavendish’s move to Omega Pharma-Quick Step. Speaking to VeloNews at the Tour of Beijing last week, Boasson Hagen said he’s already looking forward to 2013.

“Without Cavendish, maybe I get more opportunities,” said Boasson Hagen, stating the obvious. “Riding for Cavendish was okay. He was a nice guy to work for as well. I am looking forward to being ready for next year.”

With Cavendish the team’s star sprinter in 2012, Boasson Hagen was relegated to back-up duty and worked tirelessly at the front to set up the sprints as well as ride for eventual Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins.

The soft-spoken Boasson Hagen is never one to ruffle feathers, but it’s clear that Cavendish’s departure will mean bigger things for him next season. Though he’s not a pure sprinter, Boasson Hagen will see more support from the team in the mass gallops, especially on stages where the terrain is favorable to his punchy, aggressive style on short, steep finales.

Even while riding for Cavendish in last year’s Tour, where the Cannonball managed three stage victories despite the team’s devotion to Wiggins, Boasson Hagen eked out some solid results, with two third places and one second.

With Wiggins riding for an historic first-time British victory in the Tour and Cavendish donning the world champion’s rainbow jersey, Boasson Hagen readily accepted his role.

“I was sitting on the front, pulling most of the day. That was my job. It was a lot of work. That’s how it is,” he said with a shrug. “It’s always nice to be on the team that wins the Tour. It was the first time that I was on the team that won the yellow.”

Despite riding behind Cavendish and the team’s Tour GC aspirations all season long, Boasson Hagen still made the most of the opportunities when they were there.

In fact, he had his best season since 2009, finishing sixth in the Cycling Quotient ( season-ending ranking system, which tallies points across all races during the year. Although he was flat during the spring classics, he won GP Plouay, defended his Norwegian national title, and won the Tour of Norway as well as stages at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta ao Algarve.

“2012 was okay. I had some victories and I had a lot of top-10 places, so I am quite satisfied,” he said. “I would have liked to have won a stage in the Tour, but we won the overall. I was happy to be a part of that.”

He finished off the season on a strong note. In addition to winning the French semi-classic at Plouay, he took third overall at the WorldTour closer at Beijing and earned the silver medal at the world road cycling championship.

Boasson Hagen nearly tripped up Philippe Gilbert’s dream ride, but was caught out in bad position on the final climb up the Cauberg. When Gilbert attacked, Boasson Hagen had to play it smart to assure himself a podium spot in the complicated finale with Alejandro Valverde (Spain) and Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) playing cat-and-mouse in the final kilometer.

“We were not working well together and I didn’t want to drag them to the line, so I had to wait to sprint for the second place. The worlds are always a bit complicated,” he said. “I am really happy I managed to get second at the worlds. It would have been nice to be one step up, but I didn’t manage that. I was a bit behind and when Gilbert attacked; it was not possible to get him back. He was gone. It was hard to chase him back.”

Team Sky is clearly betting on its GC aspirations for the future. With Wiggins and Chris Froome firmly established as grand-tour material, the team has bolstered its strength for the three-week races by signing such veterans as David Lopéz and Vasil Kiryienka (both Movistar); Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); and Gabriel Rasch (FDJ-Big Mat). Even the arrival of rookies such as Ian Boswell and Joe Dombrowski and young British phenom Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing) are tipped toward stage races.

Despite the changes, Boasson Hagen will be able to count on the support of such riders as Bernard Eisel, who signed a deal to stay with Sky through 2015, and Ian Stannard, who is developing into a world-class lead-out man. Ben Swift also will remain with Sky next season, but as a secondary sprinter backing up the Norwegian.

After racing in China, Boasson Hagen returned to Norway, where he said he plans little more than “relaxing.” Known for his passion for photography, he said he’s more than content just to stay at home after a long season racing all over the globe.

“I have nothing planned right now for vacations,” he said. “Next year’s worlds are a long way off. I am looking forward to relaxing and coming into the next year on a good way.”

It will be interesting to see who comes out on top when Cavendish and Boasson Hagen face off on the road next year.