Could McLaren sponsorship at Bahrain-Merida edge Mark Cavendish towards team?

Bahrain-Merida and Mark Cavendish could unite for 2019 with a one-year deal between the WorldTour team and the former world champion in the process of negotiation.

Over the last few weeks Cavendish and his representatives have been discussing possible moves to several teams. The sprinter is out of contract at Dimension Data at the end of the season, and while Cyclingnews understands that the rider was scheduled to have final talks with his current team last week, a deal has not yet been agreed.

The relationship between Cavendish and Dimension Data boss, Doug Ryder, has deteriorated in the last few months, though a face-to-face meeting between the pair last week has apparently improved the situation, according to one source. Members of the Dimension Data set-up are keen to keep the veteran sprinter on board but a contract has yet to be offered. The team have already made several rider signings, investing heavily in Michael Valgren and Roman Kreuziger.

While the situation at Dimension Data remains unresolved a potential move to Bahrain Merida has been put together with McLaren acting as a key component. The negotiations are complex and involve several parties, and this has been anything but a typical transfer discussion.

The Bahrain holding group, known as Mumtalakat, holds a majority share in the McLaren Group and was created by the state in 2000 as a holding company for state-owned businesses. Cavendish has ties with the car company that stretch back to his time at HTC-Highroad when he rode Specialized bikes that were co-designed by McLaren.

The Bahrain-Merida team are owned by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, a member of the Bahrain Royal family, who has ties directly with Mumtalakat. Cyclignews understands that McLaren would effectively come on board as a major sponsor in the next two years, with Cavendish joining in 2019. The Bahrain-Merida team would not comment but Cyclingnews has learnt that the team is willing to take Cavendish for a year if it helps push the McLaren sponsorship deal over the line.

"The McLaren element is extremely delicate because of the parties involved,” a source close to the developing story told Cyclingnews. "But there are talks of McLaren coming on board as a sponsor and Cavendish joining as part of that on a one-year deal, with Bernhard Eisel also part of the package."

There is no news as to whether Mark Renshaw, a longstanding lead-out man for Cavendish, is also moving to Bahrain-Merida but Cyclingnews understands that he has already re-signed at Dimension Data. Unrelated to this is the fact that Dimension Data are set to announce the signing of Giacomo Nizzolo from Trek Segafredo.

This news was reported by La Gazzetta dello Sport last week, and the Italian is said to be excited by the prospect of riding with Cavendish should he decide to stay at Dimension Data.

A separate source told Cyclingnews that riders within Bahrain-Merida were notified in August that Cavendish could join the team. Cyclingnews has also learned that Cavendish directly approached several Bahrain-Merida riders in order to assure them that his possible presence would not be an issue.

Bahrain-Merida currently have Sonny Colbrelli on their books and while the Italian is not a pure sprinter like Cavendish, the team has already recruited Phil Bauhaus from Team Sunweb. Bauhaus is young, and is still developing, but the Bahrain-Merida team would still need to manage both sprinters' expectations if Cavendish did arrive.

Riders still on the market have reportedly been told that Bahrain-Merida have been full for several weeks, but this line has only been taken because of an assumption that both Cavendish and Eisel will join. Both Cavendish and Brent Copeland at Bahrain-Merida refrained from commenting on the story but both parties were made aware that a story was being put together. Doug Ryder was also unavailable for comment.

The issue of Cavendish's health has yet to be resolved. The sprinter was diagnosed with Epstein Barr virus for a second time earlier this month. He took to social media to announce the news but in a short video filmed without any of his Dimension Data attire on.

The crux of Cavendish's future seems to be down to his relationship with Ryder. The ties between the two men were strained earlier in the year and matters were not helped by the fact that Cavendish publicly criticized the team's bikes on several occasions, while at the same time praising Specialized's sprint bikes.

In recent weeks there has been an attempt by elements within Dimension Data to try to mend the relationship between Ryder and Cavendish, and the rider is apparently, according to one source, aware that the African team is probably his best sporting option, should a contract be proposed.

It could therefore come down to money and whether Dimension Data can put together a financial package that convinces Cavendish to stay. What's certain is that Cavendish is the highest profile rider left on the transfer market and his future is still uncertain.

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.