The outstanding success of Team Sky at the 2012 should perhaps have come as no surprise. The British team boldly proclaimed in its press release that its primary aim was to, “create the first British winner of the Tour de France, within five years.”
Better still, they have delivered on that lofty aim inside three years. It pays to dream big.
There is, however, a price to pay for such singular focus. Only one rider can win the Tour de France, but cycling is a team sport and within Team Sky are riders who could ordinarily demand the spotlight in any other team.
Cracks in the team started to appear during the Tour, with Chris Froome showing some frustration with team leader Bradley Wiggins on the mountain stages.
These small cracks were exacerbated by Tweeting WAGs defending their significant others in a now infamous spat during the Tour.
Australian sports website, The Roar, examined not only the sniping between the respective partners of Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, but also a contribution from Mark Cavendish’s partner and a reported division with the Sky camp that has Froome and Cavendish versus the rest.
Despite that, the team delivered a unified performance on the road—where it really counts—and played down the significance of any tensions.
Now, only days after their complete domination of the 2012 Tour, Sky are seemingly ready to say goodbye to Cavendish, the world’s best road race sprinter.
It was always going to be interesting to see how Cavendish managed to fit into a team with a focus on claiming the general classification win. His previous spot with the now defunct HTC Columbia saw a team built around his needs to claim the green jersey.
At Sky, he’s been relegated to a domestique who has a chance to claim the odd stage win.
He deserves better than that.
SBS Australia’s Cycling Central website reports that Cavendish has effectively been offered a free out of his three-year contract by Sky team boss, David Braislford.
“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. 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.”
It was obvious to cycling pundits the world over that targeting wins in both the GC and points classifications was unachievable without having Eddie Merckx or Bernard Hinault in the team who can win both.
Despite the handicap of being forced to effectively fend for himself, however, Cavendish still secured three impressive stage wins, including the coveted win on the cobblestones of the Champs Elysees.
His power as a sprinter is unrivalled, and having him on the team almost guarantees to get the sponsor’s name in front of the cameras. There would be a number of teams who would jump at that opportunity.
The pro cycling year is so much bigger than the Tour de France.
Certainly, the Tour is the marquee event, but it would be unwise in the extreme for a team to base their entire season on winning that one race. Cycling is a cruel sport and things can, and do, go wrong in a big way—just look at the list of names who didn’t make it to the end of this year’s Tour.
Having Mark Cavendish as a second string to the bow may be a luxury, but it’s one that Team Sky would be foolish to let go.