Where should Mark Cavendish go now?
With the B&B deal looking increasingly unlikely, we discuss the options open to Cavendish.
With the B&B deal looking increasingly unlikely, we discuss the options open to Cavendish.
By the sounds of it, things are not looking great over at B&B Hotels, with the new major new title sponsorship deal seemingly vanishing into thin air. While this is a worrying time for the likes of Pierre Rolland and the rest of the riders, the biggest story to come out of the uncertainty is what will now happen to Mark Cavendish. One of the sport’s most bankable stars who is also in the hunt for the all-time Tour de France stage win record was expected to join the French squad for one more go at winning number 35 but now that prospect looks unsure.
Assuming Cavendish to B&B Hotels is off, time is running out for the British sprinter to find a team for 2023. So, in lieu of any concrete news surfacing (at least at the time of writing), we asked the CyclingTips editorial team to offer up where they believe Cavendish should end up.
The more I think about it, the more possible, even likely, a move to Israel-Premier Tech seems to me (even though Cav’s playful provocation on social media seems a little too much to be true). Not least because it would all but guarantee Mr Froome another three-week trip with Wildcard Bike Tours, assuming the drop to ProSeries goes ahead, that is.
Speaking of which, the addition of the Manx Missile surely wouldn’t hurt Sylvan Adams’s apparent efforts to persuade the UCI to reconsider the relegation system that threatens his team, and if that doesn’t work out, Cav would be a huge help in the hunt for points for the next cycle.
A cursory browse of the possible destinations for any riders yet to find a home for 2023 does not inspire much optimism, especially given that the question that tops this article is predicated on the collapse of a French ProTeam. Arkéa Samsic, for instance, has 28 riders already confirmed for January (max roster for a UCI WorldTeam is due to return to 30 in 2023, ending the temporary expansion announced before last season), while Israel-Premier Tech has 27. Given that Cavendish was due to arrive with a small entourage including experienced lead-out lieutenant Max Richeze, this makes IPT a narrow frontrunner for me, if only for the romantic idea that Arkéa Samsic – and its smaller budget – might be enticed into rescuing a couple of floundering Frenchmen if/when Pineau’s project fails.
Finally, IPT is already well-equipped to support a fast man, but they don’t have a flat-out sprinting favourite for a race like the Tour – nor do they have a true GC contender around whom to build their team. Sure, Giacomo Nizzolo is a great rider, but he’s not a world-beater, so send the Italian to the Giro and a stage-hunting crew to the Tour with Cav at its centre. Hashtag 35.
At this point, so late in the year, there is only one answer: anywhere that will take him.
Unless a deal is already done and both parties are waiting for the right moment to announce, the very fact we are still having this discussion in mid-November already tells us Cav’s options are very limited or perhaps non-existent.
Given the vast majority of teams are effectively moving billboards who live and die by how much ROI they can provide their partners, every one of them should be queuing up to grab Cav’s signature. But it’s rarely that simple.
Trek-Segafredo should be the perfect fit. The team needs to promote Trek bikes and could be seeking the next ageing, result-grabbing, bike-selling superstar to replace Contador and Nibali, who both previously filled that role. But they already have Mads Pedersen for the same stages Cav would target and a strong team spirit no director would want to risk upsetting. Astana, Movistar, and DSM could all do with the extra column inches as squads for whom stage wins have proved elusive over the past year or two. But do we really see Cav fitting into any of those teams?
Arkéa Samsic 2023 seems overly reliant on the all too often hit-or-miss Warren “WaWa” Barguil to deliver in July. Might they need a Cav stage win? Yes! But, much like the rumoured move to B&B Hotels, an Arkea x CaCa (or MaMa) feels like a square peg, round hole, two-click team problem waiting to happen. There are plenty of reasons to argue a move to Ineos Grenadiers is on the cards, but I can’t see it happening. The Grenadiers haven’t had their best years at the Tour de France of late, but are no doubt planning and building a return to dominance. Unless the man with the money insists on Cav, it’s hard to see Ineos finding a spot on an eight-rider roster in a team traditionally not beholden to stage wins or marketing metrics. All that is to say, Cav’s only real option is Israel-Premier Tech, and I believe it’s already a done deal.
You know the game Guess Who? Step by step, you go through a process of elimination to work out the answer, and I think that’s the most instructive way to figure out where Mark Cavendish might sign in 2023.
Is there a likely Tour de France start? If not, then his value for the team, and the team’s value for him, don’t add up. Is there an uncontested spot for him on the roster? Is there a language or cultural alignment? Is he, a sprinter who’ll be 38 next July, going to be given the freedom to shape a lead-out train around himself, a veteran in a young person’s speciality? One by one, all those little Guess Who cards get flipped. Then you can start eliminating the teams that he’s ridden for before, and probably wouldn’t again.
Soudal – Quick-Step snubbed him for Tour selection in 2022 and are definitively out for 2023. Ineos Grenadiers are likely to be gunning for loftier goals than a single sprint stage win. Bahrain Victorious – where Cav spent a single not-very-happy season in 2020 – is shifting its sights ever more determinedly into the GC corner. Then there’s Q36.5, the post-Qhubeka project of Cav’s former Dimension Data boss Doug Ryder, who won’t be getting invites to the big ticket races for a little while yet.
Who’s left? Well, things aren’t looking super promising at the Men in Glaz, much to my personal chagrin. EF-EasyPost has the marketing know-how to make the most of Cav’s story, but that trail went cold about five months ago. To me, all signs point to Israel-Premier Tech. Yes, the team’s selection for the Tour is looking dicey (pending any relegation appeals), but Cav’s presence on the roster would strengthen their bargaining position with ASO. Bonus, there’s clearly an appetite for riders wanting one last roll of the career dice. That said, what do I know. We’re probably days away from Cav joining Human Powered Health or Euskaltel-Euskadi or something.
All teams with a GC candidate [at the Tour] are off the table because in the modern era having a top sprinter and a top GC candidate is an impossible match. All teams without a chance of a Tour de France wildcard are as well. Movistar already told us they wouldn’t and despite Oakley joining Jumbo-Visma, Cav would find himself in an even more difficult place there than at Soudal – Quick-Step.
Cue the team with the big budget and no other defined strategy than to get points: Israel – Premier Tech. Cavendish has already posed with some team members and met with the team’s bike sponsor at an Ibiza event. And his age fits the recruitment bracket of the team perfectly. The most important reason is, however, that having Cavendish on board, and to a lesser extent Chris Froome, would all but guarantee Sylvan Adams’ team a Tour wildcard. Total Energies and DSTNY-Lotto are in so that means two invites left on the table. B&B is the only remaining French ProTeam and if they keep existing they might get an invite. That leaves one left. Although I would be delighted to see Uno-X get the nod, the balance will then most definitely sway towards a 34-times stage winner and a four-time overall winner to join the fun in the Basque country next year. It’s a gamble because the wildcards will be announced in January but Israel is the only viable option for Cavendish in my opinion.
Sometimes, to make myself feel better about American politics, I take a little look at British politics. Nothing makes a small-town clown feel better than going to watch the circus, after all. And so I feel I know Jim Ratcliffe, chemical and petro magnate, owner of Ineos the cycling team, the car, and the company. I feel I know what this champion of Brexit would do for Britain, and for British champions; how much he would sacrifice for them.
José and others have made an excellent point above: no GC team wants a sprinter at the Tour anymore. The move to eight-man teams killed that dual-pronged dream. But I believe Ratcliffe would sacrifice the chances of a yellow jersey if it meant one of the sport’s all-time greats, a fellow Brit, would take home a record that would solidify him as the greatest sprinter of all time. He would sacrifice what the Ineos Grenadiers have always stood for – winning yellow in Paris – for this dream. And so I genuinely believe that Mark Cavendish could ride for Ineos in 2023. I even believe that he should. Jim will make it so. Ah, but wait a moment. Didn’t Ratcliffe move to Monaco so he wouldn’t have to pay taxes to the Queen (RIP)? I think I also read about him moving production of the very vehicle for which the Grenadiers are named from a promised location in Wales to the depths of the European Union, northern France. This suggests to me that while he may talk a big, Brexity game, his actual execution on matters distinctly British has thus far been lacking. If history is any guide, Mark Cavendish is therefore destined to ride for Cofidis, taking the spot vacated by Elia Viviani last year.
The question of where should Mark Cavendish go is one open to interpretation. Many of my colleagues above have taken ‘should’ to mean which squad makes the most logical sense – because they are intelligent, upstanding citizens. Me, on the other hand, I would like to stretch the definition to one more based in nebulous whimsy.
I want, no…NEED to see Mark Cavendish in a pair of multi-coloured Crocs. I absolutely have to see him scowl as he’s forced to join Lachlan Morton in an episode of EF Gone Racing, Cav struggling to get some shut-eye, silently weeping in an anonymous field while Morton chugs down beer and chocolate milk picked up from the gas station just over the road.
But then, then, he turns up at the Tour and wins number 35, resplendent in a pink kit with a cartoon bear on it (I’m just trying to get a jump on the animal EF will incorporate into 2023’s special kit). Cav crosses the line first, everyone goes nuts. The Grubers get sublime photographs documenting the whole thing, Jonathan Vaughters stands by wearing his massive belt buckle grinning at having been involved with a most un-French record-breaking win at their own Grand Tour. Come on, EF, make it happen.