Where will Cavendish land? GreenEDGE could snag sprinting’s big fish

With the collapse of the HTC-Highroad team at the end of the 2011 season, all eyes are on where cycling's most productive sprinter will land next year.

2011 Tour de France, stage 17
Cavendish's 2011 Tour green jersey win fulfilled a major goal for the Manxster.

With the collapse of the HTC-Highroad team at the end of the 2011 season, all eyes are on where cycling’s most productive sprinter will land next year.

Mark Cavendish is cycling’s most wanted man, with several teams reportedly vying for the Manxster’s services.

Cavendish released a statement Friday thanking Highroad for its support over the years, where the 26-year-old developed into cycling’s most successful sprinter.

Cavendish confirmed he has made a decision about where he will race next year, but was unwilling to provide details.

“I have now made a decision I am happy with and will be in a position to discuss my intentions once everything has been finalized,”
Cavendish said Friday. “A number of teams have expressed interest in me riding for them in 2012.”

Cavendish has been linked to a move to Team Sky, but that deal does not appear to be set in stone. Though Sky is seen by many as a natural fit for Cavendish, the presence of GC contender Bradley Wiggins could complicate his transfer to the UK-based team.

Sky is committed to trying to help Wiggins reach the Tour de France podium, ambitions that do not square with Cavendish’s sprint prowess and his desire to have at least three riders on the team riding exclusively for him.

High Road built its Tour team almost exclusively around Cavendish and the strategy paid off in spades, with 20 stage wins dating back to 2008 and culminating with the green jersey in 2011.

One source told VeloNews that Cavendish’s preferred lead-out men — Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel — will join him at a new team for 2012.

There’s growing speculation that team could well be GreenEDGE, the new Australian super-team that has deep pockets and high ambitions. That would make sense, as the Aussie team will not have a GC captain for the grand tours and has plenty of space on its roster to build a train capable of carrying Cavendish into the future. GreenEDGE team officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

If it’s not Sky or GreenEDGE, where else could Cavendish go? Only a handful of teams have deep enough pockets to pay for Cavendish’s estimated pay check of 2 million euros per year, plus the services of a few key lead-out men. Perhaps Astana or Katusha would have that kind of money, but it’s hard to imagine Cav fitting in around the dinner table with a bunch of Russians.

BMC would also likely have the money to sign Cavendish and his train, but the team has reportedly been in talks with both Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd, two high-priced and equally ambitious riders, and recently re-upped with Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, suggesting that the Swiss-backed team has other plans for the future.

Other teams, such as Garmin and the Quick-Step-Omega Pharma-Lotto merger, already have big sprinters, with Tyler Farrar and André Greipel, so it’s equally unlikely that Cavendish would make a messy switch to a team already loaded with rival sprinters.

On Thursday, HTC-Highroad boss Bob Stapleton confirmed the team would fold at the end of the 2011 season, ending what was a very effective partnership both for Cavendish and the team.

Cavendish, who was reportedly waiting for Stapleton to secure a sponsorship for 2012 before deciding his future, expressed his sadness that his professional home since 2006 is closing down shop.

“I am obviously very disappointed that HTC-Highroad will no longer be a team,” Cavendish said. “I am hugely indebted and incredibly grateful to my teammates and all the staff for their support over the past five years and I am immensely proud of what we have achieved together.”