Mark Cavendish will have the chance to go on the attack and enjoy his racing more when he joins Dimension Data in 2016, with team manager Brian Smith confident that a change in teams can be a turning point for Cavendish's career and for the African-registered squad.
The team announced on Friday that Dimension Data would be the team's title sponsor in 2016, with Deloitte also coming on board and providing important backing. The widely expected confirmation that Cavendish and loyal leadout men Bernhard Eisel and Mark Renshaw would join the team for three years was announced today, with other riders expected to be named in the coming days.
General Manager and Team owner Doug Ryder have been working intensely in recent weeks to complete the ever more complex puzzle and so secure the future of the team for the next three years. Both Dimension Data and Cavendish have contracts that run until 2018. Cavendish is currently recovering after surgery on the shoulder he injured after hitting a parked car during the Tour of Britain.
Smith revealed he has talked at length with Cavendish in recent months, convincing him he can start an important new chapter in his career with the African team.
"Mark joining the team is a big step or us but one I think we're ready for it," Smith told Cyclingnews.
"It will change our goals and objectives but also offer Mark a great chance in a key moment in his career. His arrival and the growth of the team will in turn help us develop African cycling even more and raise the profile of our Qhubeka bike charity work."
Smith revealed to Cyclingnews that he wants Cavendish to race more instinctively when he joins Dimension Data, and not always wait for sprint opportunities.
"He's arguably the best sprinter in the world and so has always had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders to win but I think it'd be great if Cav races more," Smith said.
"We saw what he can do on even tough courses like this year's British national championships. He didn't win but was raced really hard without thinking about a possible sprint finish. He actually loves to get stick and is a naturally astute race. Without taking anything way from his previous teams, I think we'll see a different Cav with us in 2016. We have a different approach, a different philosophy, we want the riders to go out and enjoy their racing. I think if Mark gives up a few sprint chances but races more with his heart, it'll motivate him even more and the team as a whole. We don't want to pigeonhole Mark as just a sprinter. I think he can be far more than that."
The arrival of Cavendish will mean the team will follow a full double programme of racing and possible even ride all three Grand Tours in 2016. However, Smith is determined that the team does not become too dependent on Cavendish's name and especially his results.
"This is a whole new project for us but it feels like the right moment to do it," he said. "Mark's arrival is a big deal and will change the team for the better. But other riders know they will still have space to ride for themselves. Edvald Boasson Hagen will still be our rider for the hillier finishes and Classics and Steve Cummings will still have the freedom to target tough races just as he did at the Tour de France when he won the stage to Mende. There will also still be huge opportunities for the African riders such as Merhawi Kudus, Daniel Teklehaimanot after the talent they showed this year. In 2016 it will be up them to step up and take them as we continue to develop African riders. By becoming bigger were convinced we can help African cycling even more."
Preparing for 2016
While his riders prepare to enjoy their off-season, Smith and the MTN-Qhubeka team management are already busy preparing for the 2016 season. Other riders are about to be signed and announced and the whole team structure will also grow.
"We've got Dimension Data as a new title sponsor and excellent support from Deloitte too. We hope to bring in other sponsors going forward because we know that the time will come to step up and become part of the WorldTour. We want to be ready for that," Smith acknowledged.
"However we also want to continue working on the development of African riders and so it'd be great if we could have a development team based in Europe, where African riders from different nations can be based and compete in races before stepping into the big team.
"It's a busy time but we've had create support from everyone and especially the fans this year, so we can't wait for the 2016 season."