Mark Cavendish has signed for African squad MTN-Qhubeka, their parent company Ryder Cycling has announced.
The 26-time Tour de France stage winner and 2011 world champion is reported to have agreed a three-year deal.
Cavendish’s current deal with Belgian squad Etixx-QuickStep expires at the end of the season and his move to MTN-Qhubeka has long been mooted. MTN-Qhubeka will be known as Team Dimensions Data from 2016.
Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel, both long-term allies of Cavendish, have also joined the squad.
The move to the UCI Professional Continental team is not without its risks. Their status means a Tour de France berth is not guaranteed, for example, but Cavendish’s place on the roster and the performance of the squad in 2015 means an invite is likely in 2016.
He is excited by the project. The 30-year-old from the Isle of Man said: “I’m super excited about becoming a part of the team for 2016. It is a team that I have watched closely as it has grown, especially over this season and been really impressed with the spirit, strength and dynamics of the group. It’s fair to say that most of the peloton has seen how incredible the team raced this year.”
It is understood MTN-Qhubeka are prepared to allow Cavendish to pursue his goals of competing for Great Britain on the track at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. An Olympic gold medal is one of the few honours to prove elusive to Cavendish, who was ninth in the 2008 Olympic Madison alongside Sir Bradley Wiggins and 29th in the 2012 road race, on the opening day of London 2012.
Team owner Douglas Ryder said: “Mark Cavendish joining our team is a huge step forward for the team as we strive to get to the next level in world cycling.”
As MTN-Qhubeka, the African team has made a big impact, including at July’s Tour de France, where Briton Steve Cummings won the 14th stage to Mende on Mandela Day and Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first African to wear the race’s King of the Mountains jersey.
Cavendish has raced for Etixx-QuickStep for the final time after sustaining a shoulder injury in crashing out of the Tour of Britain, won by MTN-Qhubeka’s Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Renshaw also joins from Etixx-QuickStep, while Eisel signs from Team Sky. The trio worked well together at HTC-Highroad, until 2011, before Cavendish left for a one-year stint with Team Sky.
The team will continue to support the Qhubeka charity, having generated more than 4,000 bicycles in its #BicyclesChangeLives campaign. Cavendish added: “I’m really looking forward to having a successful year on the road alongside the other guys and helping directly to get more bikes in the hands of people who need them.”
Meanwhile, the man who brought the Tour de France to Yorkshire in 2014 would welcome a return, but knows it is more realistic later in the decade. After London rejected the chance to host the Tour Grand Depart in 2017, Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, admitted it would have been a suprise to see the race return to Britain so quickly after it began in Leeds in 2014.
However, he added: “They do return to places but normally six or seven or eight or nine or ten years is the quickest they go back to somewhere, so three years would be way too fast.
“But we would love to get the Tour de France back here and if they would come back here in 2019 or 2020 then that’s something that we would be really excited about.”