The drama following Mark Cavendish's non-selection for this year's Tour de France showed no signs of subsiding after Dimension Data team manager Doug Ryder and head of performance Rolf Aldag publicly aired their differing opinions over the inclusion of the sprinter before the start of stage 1.
Ryder was surprisingly absent from the team's pre-race press conference on Friday instead, allowing four of his riders to front up and face questions over a line-up decision they were never included in. But a day later at the start of stage 1 in Brussels he confirmed that Cavendish's non-selection had been a management decision. However, that claim looked somewhat suspect with Rolf Aldag, the team's head of high performance, confirming that he strongly lobbied for Cavendish's inclusion in the Tour de France, only to be overruled by Ryder. The two spoke at different points in the morning, which only added to the sense of rift between them.
Cyclingnews understands that Cavendish was put forward twice in a pre-race selection that Aldag submitted but that Ryder looked for alternatives on both occasions before eventually deciding to leave the 30-time Tour France stage winner at home.
Outside the Dimension Data bus in Brussels, Ryder held court with his team press officer by his side.
"We've selected a team based on the route and how hard it is this year. Multiple people made that decision. It was a team decision and our whole high performance team was involved in the conversations with Mark," Ryder stated.
Aldag, on the other hand, made it crystal clear that he had pushed for Cavendish's inclusion.
"It's no secret I wanted him here," the German said. "I think it would suit our strategy but ultimately it's a team owner decision.
"It's within my remit to select the team, which I did, I wrote down eight names and Mark was included. And the team owner has the right to overrule me which he did and that was about it. And now we have eight athletes here who have done nothing wrong and deserve full support from everybody."
Cavendish's inclusion in the Tour was always likely to be a marginal call. His results over the last two year have been poor, but he claimed in May to be over a long-term virus that dogged his 2017 and 2018 campaigns. He failed to pick up a result at the Tour of Slovenia in June but Aldag believed that the results at that race were only one dimension to Cavendish's overall condition and hopes of peaking for July.
"Well, of course, I have physically seen. I'm probably one of the very few who has physically seen him and followed him for quite a while," he said. "I was in Slovenia and I saw a Mark Cavendish who was certainly about 300 per cent better than he was in 2016 when he dropped out on stage 2 and fell asleep in my car after 20kms because he was so tired.
"So I've seen him there and that's why I thought he was definitely on a good path and wanted to take him. For me, it's not about media or just to give him another Tour de France [for sentimental reasons]. I thought for the stages that we have he's a good choice. There's no guarantee, so we'll never know. But again then I refer back to today – the Tour de France starts and Mark Cavendish is not here. But there are 176 other riders who are here so they have to be the focus now.
"We just don't know [if it's over for him]. We don't know if he's not racing."
Earlier on, Ryder defended the decision not to include Cavendish but, unlike Aldag, he would not take personal responsibility for making the call, instead referring once again to a team decision. With the team press officer keen to move the subject towards other topics of conversation, Ryder expanded on his reasoning.
"We always put out decisions late. We look at the national championships in case something happens in those races," he said. "It's based on the racing and the riders' condition right until the end. That's what the reasons are. We've never really put our team selection out any earlier as there's lot of racing going on in the final weekend before the Tour de France.
"This was a team decision and the race this year is so, so hard. We've done four Tours and this route that has been presented to the teams is as hard as our first Tour de France in 2015. The team that we have in this race is representative of that.
"There was a team decision from our high performance team. There was a difference of opinions but when you add all of those opinions together with the conversations that we had internally and all the information we have, and the route the, the team felt that we've selected the best team for this year's Tour de France. It was a team decision. There were differences of opinion but it was team decision.
The personal relationship between Ryder and Cavendish has been rocky for some time, and this already looks like the nail in the coffin when it comes to the British rider's time on the squad. For Aldag, the reasoning behind wanting Cavendish in the team was purely sporting, rather than nostalgic or the hunt for easy publicity owing to Cavendish's record in the race.
He pointed out that, although Cavendish was a risk given his results this season, it was still one worth taking – especially given Dimension Data's struggles over the last two season. Once again, when talking to Cyclingnews and other journalists away from the team bus, he stressed that the decision over selection was taken out of his hands.
"We'll never know what if, but it's a team owner decision and Doug made that call. That's normal in every situation in life. Someone makes a call and that's it then. The eight guys that are here they've done nothing wrong. It's not their mistake to be here. Then they deserve the support of everyone who is here. The Tour starts today but it definitely starts without Mark. That's unchangeable.
When asked if he thought Ryder had made a mistake, Aldag paused before adding: "He had a decision. Whether it's a mistake or not we'll never see because we don't know what if…
"Mark is not here. There are pros and cons. I was clearly in favour. Should that even go public? I'm not really sure because at the end of the day it's not relevant. But for sure I have that level of arrogance that I think, after being involved in around 50 stage wins at the Tour, that I have an alright judgment and that I've not made too many mistakes in my management career."
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