Mark Cavendish can expect a warm welcome at Bahrain-Merida when he joins the team for the 2020 season, with Italian sprinter Sonny Colbrelli convinced the Manxman can help improve the team's sprint options and even return to winning major bunch sprints.
Cavendish has been hampered by the effects of the debilitating Epstein-Barr virus for the last two years.
He struggled under the effects of the virus due to a late diagnosis and was only given the all-clear in May this year. He has been trying to build his form since then but was not selected for Dimension Data's Tour de France squad.
Cavendish was linked with a move to Bahrain-Merida for 2019 but he eventually signed a one-year extension with Dimension Data. With his relationship with team manager Doug Ryder now at a low, Cavendish’s time on the South African squad is set to end after four years.
The move to Bahrain-Merida, which will become Bahrain-McLaren in 2020, would see Cavendish link up with Rod Ellingworth, the coach who brought him through the ranks in the British under-23 Academy and masterminded his World Championships victory in 2011.
Bahrain-Merida currently have Sonny Colbrelli and Phil Bauhaus as their leading sprinters and both riders are contracted for 2020, but Cyclingnews understands that the team believe that adding Cavendish would not destabilise the squad.
"I'm happy that Cav is joining Bahrain-Media next year. I know him pretty well, we get on and I've got a lot of respect for him," Colbrelli told Cyclingnews. "It'll be good to have him here because after all his success and sprinting skills, I can only improve as sprinter by having him as a teammate
"We all hope that he makes a full comeback next year, gets back to being the Cavendish we all know so well and ends his career on a high with some big wins. He might not win 15 races a year like he did at his peak but I'm sure he can win again."
Colbrelli targets hilly races and the semi-Classics, while Bauhaus is still developing as a sprinter, leaving room for a pure sprinter like Cavendish. The only competition for the role of lead sprinter could come at the Tour de France but Colbrelli and Cavendish could share the sprint opportunities depending on the stage profiles and finishes.
"He's a pure sprinter, while I'm a little different and go well after hilly races and difficult weather, so we’re compatible and can fit together in the same team," Colbrelli explained.
Vincenzo Nibali will leave Bahrain-Merida for Trek-Segafredo in 2020 and Rohan Dennis' contract has been terminated, but the team have signed Mikel Landa and Wout Poels as they starts a new chapter with McLaren as a new 50 per cent owner.
Cavendish worked with the incoming co-title sponsor McLaren when the British-based but Bahrain-owned motorsport and technology company worked with bike brand Specialized.
Ellingworth has been working behind the scenes at Bahrain-Merida for several months and officially became team manager on October 1. Brent Copeland remains in a key management role, while Roger Hammond, who worked with Cavendish at Dimension Data, has been named as Performance Manager.
Cavendish is likely to move to Bahrain-Merida without his trusted lead-out from Dimension Data. His long-standing lead-out rider Mark Renshaw has retired, while the future of Bernhard Eisel, now 38, will not include a move to Bahrain-Merida.
All the Bahrain-Merida riders and staff are expected to gather at McLaren's headquarters before the end of October to plan for the 2020 season.
"The team will grow and improve next year for lots of different reasons, including the involvement of McLaren," Colbrelli said.
"There's a real sense that we're going to get better and better as a team. That's exciting to be part of."