After weeks of speculation and rumors, it's finally official - road race world champion Mark Cavendish will ride for Team Sky in 2012. The 26-year-old sprinter and his HTC-Highroad team captain Bernhard Eisel were confirmed with Team Sky on Tuesday, just two weeks after Cavendish clinched his first road race world championship in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At the Tour de France in July, Cavendish confirmed his sprinting expertise again by powering to five stage victories and securing the green jersey as the race's points classification winner. However, following the race it was announced that HTC-Highroad would disband after an unsuccessful sponsor search.
It was widely assumed that Cavendish would go across to the British team, and was seemingly confirmed by the team's own Bradley Wiggins, who referred to Cavendish as his future teammate in an interview last month.
However, following his win in Copenhagen, rumours began circulating linking the 20-time Tour de France stage winner with the emerging super-team Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere denied the news, stating that he had been in negotiations with Cavendish but the deal fell through before signing. Sky's manager David Brailsford confirmed a verbal agreement with the rider, but said the situation was "complicated".
The signing finally went through, and Cavendish will bring his right-hand man Eisel with him to the British squad.
"Mark is the greatest sprinter of his generation and is well on his way to becoming the greatest of all time," said Dave Brailsford, Team Sky Principal. "He is a rider of exceptional talent who has proved his pedigree at the very highest level of our sport."
Cavendish's fellow Britons, who helped him to his world title, were pleased to see the deal go through at last. "I think I speak for everyone in the squad when I say that we're all delighted to have Cav joining us at Team Sky," said Wiggins. "He is the best sprinter in the world and has an energy and passion for cycling that is infectious. Team Sky has enjoyed a fantastic second season and Mark's signing is another statement of our intent for next year and beyond."
Geraint Thomas, who showed himself more than capable as a lead-out man during the Tour de France and was critical to the British team's success in Copenhagen, was equally delighted. "I think everyone saw that when we helped him to victory for Great Britain at the Worlds, and we are all looking forward to helping him deliver more wins for Team Sky."
Eisel, an accomplished rider in his own right with the 2010 Gent-Wevelgem to his name, was not only a main helper for Cavendish at HTC-Highroad over the past four years, but a leader of the team and a rider who brings 11 years of experience to the squad.
He cited his desire to remain on a team with Cavendish as a major factor in his decision to sign with Sky.
"I'm really happy. I've had a great time with HTC-Highroad but at soon as I heard the team was folding I knew I would have to explore other possibilities and Team Sky were right at the top of my list. The biggest thing that attracted me to them was the structure they have in place and everything that happens behind the scenes. Everything is catered for the riders and I think that's the perfect way to run a professional cycling team.
"My main job will be keeping him protected leading into the sprints, but the spring Classics are also very important to me and I'll be looking to ride well in them. If I can secure a ride in the Tour de France that will be great as well. I have ridden the last eight Tours and finished them all, and next year is my 12th season as a professional so I'd like to think I have the experience to be able to contribute to the team."