Mark Cavendish’s rainbow jersey will not be on show at the Tour of Lombardy on Saturday. He took the decision in conjunction not to start the season-ending classic with his HTC-Highroad team following his participation in Gran Piemonte on Thursday.
"We decided yesterday after Piemonte," directeur sportif Valerio Piva told Cyclingnews in Milan on Friday. "The idea in the beginning was to start Lombardy. Obviously, that’s not a race suited to Cavendish, so starting and then having to pull out after 50km wouldn’t a good situation, for him or for the race."
Cavendish was an early attacker at Gran Piemonte in a bid to show off his newly-earned rainbow bands, but after a high-speed opening to the race, he climbed off after 69km. "He wanted to honour the fact that he was starting Piemonte, but then when we got to the hillier part of the route, he was dropped there and he pulled out," Piva said. "Of course, it wasn’t his aim to start and then drop out."
Piva explained that Cavendish decided against starting Lombardy simply to show off his jersey, reasoning that the only place to honour a race is at the finish.
"He said it wasn’t a good thing for his image or for that of the organiser, so after the race, we decided together that it wouldn’t have brought anything to the race just to start and then pull out.
"When you take the start of the race, you have to wait until the end for doping control. You have to wait all day in the car or the bus, so we decided not to have him start. It doesn’t change anything for him or for us. Maybe having Cavendish at the start would have been nice for the organisers and for the public who would have seen him at the start, but from a sporting point of view, we decided against it."
In spite of his absence from the Race of the Falling Leaves, Cavendish is expected to be on hand for the official presentation of the 2012 Giro d’Italia route, which takes place in Milan on Sunday.
Bidding farewell to HTC-Highroad
In forgoing the Tour of Lombardy, Cavendish is also missing out on HTC-Highroad’s final WorldTour race, as the team failed to find a sponsor for next year. Piva admitted that it would be a strange sensation to wind down the season in the knowledge that the group would not be reassembling at the end of the winter.
"It hurts after having spent all these years in the team, it’s not a good feeling," he said. "It’s the end of the season, but we’ve done that plenty of times knowing that we would be back to start again the following year. You’d go on holiday, of course, but knowing that you would be back as part of that team.
"This moment is really the end of a beautiful period. We’ve had a lot of success but I think we’ve given a lot to cycling too. It’s a very sad moment for me."
Ironically, Cavendish and Bernhard Eisel were the last riders on HTC-Highroad’s 2011 roster to confirm their destination for next season, and Piva feels that it is testament to the depth of the squad that all of its members have secured contracts for next season, in spite of the competitive market.
"I think that all of the riders and even all of the staff are sorted for next year," he said. "It’s proof that we had a very good quality group, very professional, and I’m proud of that. I think they’ve all learned something from this team, everybody has received something.
"I’ve given something to the riders, but I’ve received so much in return, and that’s something that will stay with me and that I can take to other teams."
Piva himself will move on to Katusha in 2012, where he will be charged with attempting to replicate the kind of success he enjoyed at HTC-Highroad.
"I’m going to this team looking to bring my experience and maybe try to recreate the kind of team we had at HTC. That’s going to be a very hard task, I think, but I’m starting with enthusiasm. I’ll do my best to take the team to a high level, like it deserves."