MTN-Qhubeka hope that a bigger budget for next season could allow them to sign Mark Cavendish and one or two support riders for the Manxman in 2016. Cavendish, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has been in talks with the South African team from as early as April this year but their current budget will not stretch far enough.
While telecoms company MTN have stepped down as a sponsor, it is expected that Dimension Data will soon be confirmed as the primary sponsor while team principle Doug Ryder is currently in the US talking to other potential sponsors. In addition, it is hoped that Cavendish himself will be able to bring along some extra funds, giving the team the opportunity to boost their ranks to up from the current 22 riders to 26.
"We simply don't have the money. I told them to go out and find another sponsor, we're open to another naming rights sponsor," MTN-Qhubeka team manager Brian Smith told Cyclingnews. "I like Mark and I think Mark, like Tyler and other guys, can ride differently. Mark maybe isn't the fastest guy any more with these new guys coming through. I'd like to try and reinvent him and look at different ways. Who is coming with him I don't know, do we have the money I don't know.
"He's a great ambassador and Qhubeka would love him. He will open the door to more PR and bigger PR, more respect in the peloton. There's a lot of things that we can get from him. I don't think anyone in the team has to worry about their place in the team. Is it a win-win situation? I think it is."
Expending for 2016
If Cavendish does join, he won't be reunited with his former teammate Matt Goss, who is almost certainly going to leave the team at the end of the season. With Goss leaving, the team would be interested in taking on another Australian and Cavendish's leadout man Mark Renshaw is the obvious choice. If the budget can stretch far enough then a second rider may be brought in and Smith hinted that Bernhard Eisel would be of interest to them. The Austrian would also bolster their classics team who struggled this season.
"If part of the deal is to bring these riders on then we need to discuss it. It's exciting times and I think that we're going to have enough budget to have the same amount of riders. If Cav and co come to the team then it could be 26 riders," said Smith.
The team are not putting all their eggs into the Cavendish basket and Smith has been busy looking into options to strengthen the team, as the try to broaden their programme. After making their debut at the Tour de France and riding their second Vuelta a Espana they plan to target their first appearance at the Giro d'Italia. The Tour de France will once again be on the agenda and should they bring on enough riders then they may also take on the Vuelta.
For next season, the team has been specifically looking at the climbing side of the team, even more so since it was confirmed last week that Louis Meintjes would leave at the end of the season. Two riders that are on their radar are Caja Rural's Omar Fraile, who looks set to take the Vuelta's mountain's jersey, and Mikel Nieve – although Smith admits that Nieve is likely to be outside their budget. Whoever they sign, they hope to keep the essence of the team the same.
"First and foremost we want to develop the African talent," said Smith. "We don't want to take on riders just because of who they are on the bike, it's about who they are as individuals. If someone comes to our team they have to fit into our culture. They have to speak English and be a nice guy, be willing to do some PR stuff that is all important for us. There are a bunch of climbers I'd like to consider but the net's closing because they have to sign and if we haven't offered any contracts to anyone then we have to wait until next week until our budget is confirmed and then we will see what is left. It's not going to be the same as last year. I still think there are two or three good signings left out there that haven't been signed by WorldTour teams."
Born in Ireland to a cycling family and later moved to the Isle of Man, so there was no surprise when I got into the sport. Studied sports journalism at university before going on to do a Masters in sports broadcast. After university I spent three months interning at Eurosport, where I covered the Tour de France. In 2012 I started at Procycling Magazine, before becoming the deputy editor of Procycling Week. I then joined Cyclingnews, in December 2013.
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