After last week’s confirmation that Mark Cavendish would begin negotiations to end his Sky contract, his coach Rod Ellingworth has told Cyclingnews that the rider’s Tour de France ambitions are central to any proposed move to a rival team.
Ellingworth has been an integral part in Mark Cavendish’s development as a rider, from unpolished junior to world champion, and the Sky team coach’s modest demeanour belies the instrumental role he has played in Cavendish’s career.
“It’s totally up to him. For me, I just want Mark to perform and to do what he does best,” Ellingworth told Cyclingnews at the World championships in Valkenburg, Holland.
“It’s up to him then on where it’s best to be. That’s my interest for him. If it means him going then he has to go. From talking from a British cycling point of view as a British cycling coach, Mark’s a winner and he needs to go to a team where he can win bike races and it’s as clear as that really.”
Ellingworth is not the first member of Sky’s fraternity to speak openly about Cavendish’s future. Dave Brailford lit the torch paper in July, telling the BBC that a move from Sky was a possibility after Cavendish was left isolated in a number of sprint lead-outs. Bradley Wiggins echoed his boss’s sentiments, adding that he could understand why Cavendish would depart after only a year of his contract at Sky.
“Whether he stays at Team Sky or goes anywhere else, as long as he can go and win bike races that’s what he needs to be able to do. And if he doesn’t feel like he can win bike races at Team Sky then maybe he has to move on. We don’t know yet. Nothing is done and nothing is sorted yet. There are a lot of rumours, a lot of rumours.”
“Do I want him to stay at Team Sky? Of course, I’d love him to stay at Team Sky.”
“I just think that goals change. From a very positive experience at the Tour de France and being part of a yellow jersey team I think he really realised how much he loves the Tour and I think he’s been grappling with that for years, ‘do I love the Tour, yes or no?’ I think he absolutely loves the Tour de France and I think he wants to be a big winner in the Tour de France. That’s where he harbours that kind of feeling, which is fair enough. I think he really wants to beat Eddy Merckx's stage record, which is great if he can.”
Cavendish’s Tour was by no means a failure. Despite isolated moments during several lead-outs he came away with three stage wins and, barring crashes, he could have equalled 2011’s tally of five wins. The green jersey did elude him, with Peter Sagan proving a worthy winner and Sky understandably concentrating on their yellow jersey campaign.
“He had a bit of bad luck but all year he’s had a few ups and downs and a bit of bad luck but I don’t know. I think he’s had really good support throughout the year. You track the season, some of the ups and downs, and considering he was in that jersey and everything else, I think the guy has done a fantastic job. I think he’s had some real big hits in terms of crashes, an illness that continued on, which impacted at Milan San Remo, so you take all that into consideration. I think he got massive support,” Ellingworth added.
But support is more than just placing eight men on the front of the peloton in a lead-out. Away from the television cameras that broadcast Tour stage finishes, Cavendish has benefited from Sky’s entire marginal gains programme as well as the support and backing at this year’s Olympic Games.
“He knows he’s never had that level of support before and he knows that if he goes he could potentially never have that level of support again. I think he wants to win bike races and he needs a full team around him to win bike races. That didn’t happen at the Tour but I think everyone knew it wasn’t going to happen at the Tour. I think it was that he realised that he loved the Tour de France and he wanted to win more.”
The number of suitors courting Cavendish depends on who you speak to. By all accounts, Omega Pharma-QuickStep lead the way, while GreenEdge – who offered Cavendish a contract in 2011, BMC and even RadioShack are reported to be interested parties. Katusha recently removed themselves from the speculation by stating they would not make a move for the sprinter. The reported one million pound buy-out clause could prove a complication but Cyclingnews understands that negotiations between Sky and Cavendish have yet to take place.
“Maybe it was inevitable that he would join us in terms of him being the world champion,” Ellingworth said when asked about Cavendish’s move to Sky at the start of 2012.
“I think he did have to come to the team, to experience it. He did, and he’s certainly not unhappy with the team, and he knows the organisation of the team is the best he’s ever had. I don’t think that he want to leave because he’s unhappy. It’s just a little change in direction on what he wants to do.”