Which way now for Cavendish?
The transfer season is well under way in the cycling world and rider agents are busy men right now. No one can talk about their moves, prospective or otherwise, until August 1, but deals are already being done and pre-contract agreements signed.
The biggest prize for the 2012 season is undoubtedly Mark Cavendish. The sprinter's contract with Highroad Sports is up at the end of the year and there is a good chance he will be moving on.
At the Commonwealth Games last October the Manxman used his media freedom to decry the team's management, and in particular team boss Bob Stapleton, for his lack of superstar wages.
Cavendish had re-signed with Highroad in 2008, just before the Olympics, and they got him on a cheap deal. According to our sources those setting up Team Sky were livid with Cav for re-signing without informing them first as they wanted him on board from the start of the project.
According to Cav's comments at the Commonwealth Games, the deal hasn't changed despite his continued success, and the bonuses are almost non-existent. It would appear Cavendish has run out of patience with the American team, who are looking for a new sponsor for 2012 onwards.
The question is, if he leaves, where would he go? Below we outline the frontrunners in the race for Cavendish's signature.
Surely Cavendish's natural home. The British team wanted him from the start and certainly has deep enough pockets. His coach and mentor Rod Ellingworth is a key figure at Sky and the whole premise of the team is to support British cyclists in their bid for success at world and Olympic level. Cavendish's build-up to London 2012 will be crucial next year, and Sky can guarantee him the build-up he needs.
For: British team, Ellingworth present, guaranteed race programme, suitable budget.
Against: May be a bit too clinical.
Another team with pockets deep enough to pay Cavendish an estimated €1.5m a year. The Swiss/American team have big ambitions, and with Andy Rihs behind them, they have the money to back it up. George Hincapie and Marcus Burghardt, who did so much for Cavendish in 2008 and 2009, could help persuade Cav and without any other sprinters he would face no challenge to his race programme.
For: Suitable funds, Hincapie's presence.
Against: No proven lead-out train.
The new Australian team is reportedly leading the chase for Cav's signature. The team's management took the Brit out for dinner at the World Championships last year and were again speaking to him at the Tour Down Under this year. Their budget is yet to be confirmed, but they have a blank canvas to work with. The only drawback could be the pressure on them to build their team around Australian riders, rather than British ones.
For: Have already been chasing Cavendish hard.
Against: Too antipodean a focus.
Patrick Lefévère tried to sign Cavendish when the Brit was re-signing at the end of 2008 and apparently offered Cav much more than Highroad could. Cavendish, however, knew that the team was all about Tom Boonen due to its Belgian image and that's not likely to change. They don't currently have a bunch sprinter and Boonen seems uninterested in returning to that role. Cavendish is popular in Belgium and would guarantee them wins.
For: Experienced in sprint lead-outs.
Against: Boonen is the boss there, and he and Cav aren't the best of friends.
With the biggest budget in cycling the Russian team cannot be discounted. However, with the way Andrei Tchmil runs the team it's virtually unthinkable the Brit would end up in a Katusha jersey, especially with the latest developments. He has become rather pally with Filippo Pozzato though, and it's not just a love of watches they share.
For: Money, Russian gangster glamour.
Against: Andrei Tchmil, Russian gangster glamour.
Ag2r-La Mondiale - Not with those shorts
Euskaltel-Euskadi - Can't climb, or speak Basque, so no
Lampre-ISD - Who?
Leopard-Trek - They've got their superstars and don't need any more
Liquigas-Cannondale - Too Italian. Too green
Movistar - Track record of harbouring dopers so Cav wouldn't go there
Omega Pharma-Lotto - And lead out Greipel? Do us a favour
Astana That's Vino's team, and you'd better not forget it
Rabobank - Not impossible to imagine, but we just can't see it
Saxo Bank - Riis might fancy his chances, but he's looking for a new sponsor too
Garmin-Cervélo - Cav and Vaughters are not friends
RadioShack - Won't even be here next year
Vacansoleil - The team that signed Ricco and former-big-name graveyard? No
What's Cav worth
Mark Cavendish can expect to earn between €1.5-€2m a year when he signs a new contract for 2012 and beyond.
According to Italian agent Alex Carera: "It's very hard to say now. The agents or the riders don't create the value, the market does. It depends on the number of teams that make offers. To determine his worth, you have to evaluate the market, discover how many teams want Cavendish and what they are offering," Carera continued.
"Maybe a new team is created that need riders to guarantee wins, one that could pay him €2.5 million. Or maybe, in two months' time, two teams quit and force the market value down by one million. He has to sign at the right moment."
Carera negotiates the contracts of many cyclists, including that of world champion Thor Hushovd.
Carera explained that signing Cavendish would need to include space for his lead-out men. Carera represents Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel. "If his team-mates are paid well, then he can keep on winning," he said.
The right moment is before the Tour de France, Carera added. The potential contract will also need to include a bonus option in case Cavendish wins the World Championships.
"At his level and with his image, he needs an important contract. If he wins there [the Worlds] his market value becomes even greater. However, the base contract is fundamental."
This article was originally published in Cycling Weekly magazine, April 28 2011 issue