Mark Cavendish, Team Sky, Tour de France, cycling
Mark Cavendish does domestique duties for Team Sky at the 2012 Tour de France (AAP Images)
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A day ago there was an unusual statement  attributed to Team Sky principal David Brailsford in the wake of Bradley Wiggins's historic Tour de France victory.

Brailsford was apparently responding to questions surrounding the future of sprinter Mark Cavendish at Sky after a Tour in which the world champion was effectively left to his own devices, fetching water and catching wind for the general classification riders, while Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and to a lesser extent Matt Goss (Orica GreenEDGE) were given free rein on the flat stages.

In the end Cavendish saved his Tour with stunning performances on stage 18 and on the Champs-Elysees. But that may not have been enough when it comes to his relationship with Sky.

“If he (Cavendish) felt, or if it was felt, that he would like a dedicated team around him, then he is quite within his rights to want to do that,” Brailsford was quoted as saying in the BBC article.

Now that is a statement guaranteed to get the phones running hot in professional cycling. Brailsford has effectively given Cavendish the green light to look elsewhere after only a year in Sky colours. He has a three year contract with the British outfit.

“This team will keep its GC [general classification] ambitions and I am sure that we will sit down and discuss that with Mark and see how he feels about that,” Brailsford continued. “He is a prolific British winner and on the one hand we would love to have a prolific British winner on the team.

“We wouldn't fall out about it, there wouldn't be an issue about it, but we are very proud to have him on Team Sky, he is a fantastic champion and long may that continue. I can't see an issue at all, there's no problem and we will take the common-sense approach and sort it out like that.

Brailsford then laid out the inescapable logic in his thinking with this last statement.

“If you're going to become the best cycling team the world's ever seen, you've got to win the biggest race in the world [the Tour de France] time and time again. I am quite driven by that: to see what it takes to be the best professional team this sport has ever seen. The components of that would be success over time.”

It’s unsurprising there would be tensions between competing disciplines within Team Sky, and given Brailsford's explicit statement that winning the Tour de France will be an ongoing priority for Sky you can see that Cavendish will continue to be the odd man out despite his successes.

There is tension between the GC talent as well but that is likely to resolve itself given the relative ages of Wiggins and Tour runner-up, Chris Froome. Wiggins is 32 and Froome just 27. Despite rumours of Froome flying the Sky coop, they have a British successor in place and the Kenyan born rider is that man. Wiggins is past the average age of Tour winners (29) while Froome has yet to hit his real peak.

Cavendish is also in his prime at 27 and has shown no sign of slowing down, in fact the opposite, he seems to be getting faster, and smarter. So a team dedicated to the goal of winning five Tour stages each year and the green jersey for Cavendish makes sense. That was the winning formula at his now disbanded HTC-Highroad team.

When Cavendish signed on with Sky one of the first questions put to the team was about their management of two agendas, a tilt at both the yellow jersey (GC) and green jersey (points) in the 2012 Tour.

The team stated they thought it was doable while Tour history said it was not, yet they persisted. But now that the Tour is over we know that isn't possible. The naysayers were right.

Modern professional cycling demands a sophisticated specificity from both riders and teams. True GC riders target a Grand Tour victory and sprinters tour stages, classics and world road championships, teams are also built around those goals.

For Cavendish to reclaim the green jersey he lost to Peter Sagan and continue with his prolific winning ways at the Tour de France, he must change teams.

It appears Brailsford has given him a green light to pursue his ambitions.

The October transfer season will be an interesting one to watch.
 


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