Mark Cavendish is looking for a new two-year contract for 2023 and 2024, with the hope of riding the Tour de France at least one more time and having a chance at beating Eddy Merckx's stage win record.
Cavendish turns 37 on Friday and is arguably the greatest sprinter of all time and has little to prove. But he is still hungry to win and still fast in sprints. He won four stages and the green points jersey at last year's Tour de France and five victories in other races. He won stage 3 of this year's Giro d'Italia in Balatonfüred and was again close to victory in Cuneo.
That would be enough to convince most teams to keep him for 2023 but Patrick Lefevere seems to have other plans for QuickStep-AlphaVinyl when Soudal comes on board as a title sponsor. Remco Evenepoel will have leadership in the team and Julian Alaphilippe is under contract until the end of 2024.
Fabio Jakobsen is likely to secure the sprinter's role at this year's Tour de France if he is on form, while Lefevere has reportedly secured Tim Merlier as the team's second sprinter and big Belgian name for 2023, apparently shutting Cavendish out beyond this season.
Cavendish understands the logic and intricacies of the rider market and has hired rider agent Martijn Berkhout of SEG Cycling in the hope of finding the best possible team for 2023 and 2024.
Which team could sign Mark Cavendish?
Cyclingnews spoke to a leading rider agent, who explained Cavendish's options. They did not want to be named but understand the rider transfer market like few others.
"It's important to understand that sprinters in cycling are a lot like goalkeepers in soccer teams; while a team needs four or five domestiques or climbers, they only need two or three sprinters," the agent explained to Cyclingnews.
"The very best sprinters like Cavendish are highly sought and so most are already under contract for 2023 and beyond. That perhaps helps Cavendish but also limits his options.
"There are three big sprinters on the market for 2023: Cavendish, Fernando Gaviria and Caleb Ewan. The Australian is under contract with Lotto Soudal but if the team fails to secure a WorldTour licence for 2023 he would be available [team manager John Lelangue told Cyclingnews Ewan would remain with the team through 2025 regardless of licence - ed].
"The names of the 18 WorldTour teams will not be confirmed until late October but a major team with a good budget will surely seek to agree on an option deal with Ewan and then sign him if Lotto Soudal are relegated from the WorldTour. Ewan is worth waiting for."
Cavendish will no doubt receive a number of offers but a desire to ride the Tour de France is a double-edged sword.
If he wins Tour de France sprints and betters Merck's record of 34 stages it would be historic but the best teams at the Tour de France often have other ambitions.
"Cavendish's options narrow somewhat because he wants to ride the Tour de France. The super teams all target overall victory at the Tour and so rarely include a sprinter in their eight-rider roster. Yet other teams and especially the big bike brands would love the publicity he generates."
Cavendish's best team options
"He could go to Arkéa-Samsic as they step up to the WorldTour level even though Nacer Bouhanni has a contract for 2023. I personally think Alpecin could be an option as they step up to WorldTour level in 2023 even though they have Mathieu van der Poel and Jasper Philipsen," the agent told Cyclingnews.
"AG2R Citroën could be an option, too, as Greg van Avermaet's big contract winds down in 2023. They have Ben O'Connor but would probably be happy to add a big-name sprinter in their ranks for the Tour de France.
Israel-Premier Tech could seem an option, with billionaire team owner Sylvan Adams ready to invest in big-name riders. However, team manager Kjell Carlström told Cyclingnews they have not yet considered the idea of signing another sprinter alongside Giacomo Nizzolo.
"Specialized have invested heavily in TotalEnergies along with Quickstep and Bora-Hansgrohe so I doubt those teams will hire Cavendish because Bora have Sam Bennett and TotalEnergies have Sagan.
"I don't think Cofidis have the budget, UAE Team Emirates are focused on winning the Tour de France with Tadej Pogačar and are likely to keep Gaviria because he's shown he's competitive again.
Ineos Grenadiers are similar as they will focus on winning the Tour, so won't take a sprinter. Trek-Segafredo doesn't have a GC rider or sprinter for the Tour but it all depends on what Cavendish wants to earn.
The agent Cyclingnews spoke to believes Cavendish can still earn over €1 million per season.
"After his success in 2021 and 2022 and his incredible palmares, Mark's market value is somewhere between a million and 1.5 million Euro, plus big bonuses for major victories," the agent said.
"Without Michael Mørkøv as his lead-out he might not win as much but win or lose, Cavendish will surely be worth the investment. He and his agent just have to find the right team and then do the work."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.