Mark Cavendish switch to Team Sky more likely after HTC-Highroad fold

Mark Cavendish‘s possible move to Great Britain’s Team Sky in 2012 has become more likely after confirmation of rumours that his current HTC-Highroad team will cease to exist at the end of this year, having failed to line up a new sponsor. The team head, Bob Stapleton, said that their coaches and athletes were free to pursue other options for next year.

Cavendish’s two key lead-out men, Bernhard Eisel and Mark Renshaw, were both still under contract with Stapleton’s Highroad company until 2013, but they will now be free to join Cavendish wherever he has chosen to ride next year. There is speculation that the directeur sportif, Brian Holm, may follow him, and it appears that the new Australian squad GreenEdge may have joined Sky as a possible destination for the Manxman.

“We had an agreement in place in principle with a new partner which would have given us enough funds to operate the team at the same level of the last four years. This deal abruptly collapsed on Sunday night,” Stapleton said. Further negotiation with HTC fell through on Wednesday, and a possible merger also collapsed. That comes in spite of the team’s successful Tour de France, with five stage victories and the green points jersey for Cavendish and a further stage win for Tony Martin.

Stapleton added that he was mystified by HTC’s unwillingness to continue backing his team. “We were frustrated by the indecision of our title sponsor HTC who, after many months of assurances, had not come forward with a commitment to the team. That indecision remains a mystery to me.”

In less than four full seasons in the sport, Stapleton’s team has won nigh on 500 races, including more than 50 stage wins in the Tours of Italy, France and Spain, and major Classics including wins in Milan-San Remo for Cavendish and the Australian Matt Goss. The squad were frequently ranked No1 in the world, all of which generated some $400m of publicity for its backers, who included the Columbia clothing company as well as phone makers HTC.

That makes the lack of any fresh sponsor hard to explain, although Stapleton said that repeated drug scandals involving major figures such as Alberto Contador were a factor. So too was the shaky structure of the sport, with a handful of big-budget teams – of which Sky would be an example – dominating the transfer market. Stapleton said on Thursday that his team was a “middle-budget” team who had punched above their weight.

Stapleton’s Highroad brand was first seen in the professional peloton at the start of 2008. The American had been brought in to relaunch the German T-Mobile squad after a wave of drug scandals, but was left high and dry when the telecom company pulled out at the end of 2007. Initially in 2008, the team raced with just the Highroad name on their jerseys before the Columbia clothing company appeared at the 2008 Tour. The rest was history, much of it made by Cavendish, but that history has just ended.

Article by William Fotheringham

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