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Cav coy on Commonwealth come-get-me call

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Matt Slater | 09:00 UK time, Saturday, 23 October 2010

A precocious British talent, his illustrious team, a stand-off over money (or is it ambition?), mega-rich rivals waiting greedily in the wings and angry words about a lack respect...sounds familiar, doesn't it?

But while the "Whither Wayne" media storm ran out of puff abruptly on Friday, Mark Cavendish's dispute with Team HTC-Columbia might just have what it takes to become a genuine bust-up.

He was in London this week to help promote "Chasing Legends", an excellent documentary about the 2009 Tour de France (if you know any cycling nuts, the Christmas gift dilemma is sorted), and was in typically forthright form on all matters apart from one - namely, which team he will be riding for in 2012?

The film is basically a Musketeers-style paean to the virtues of teamwork, particularly HTC-Columbia teamwork, but it was hard to ignore the elephant in the cinema for long.

Come on Cav, I ventured, what's the story with the team?

And for probably the first time in four thoroughly enjoyable interviews with the Manx Missile over the years he didn't really answer the question.

Or maybe he did.

"I've said everything I'm going to say on that matter," he flat-batted. "I'm contracted to race for the team."

In case you missed what he's already said on the matter, here's a taster from what was expected to be a fairly humdrum pre-Commonwealth Games press conference in Delhi.

"I'm committed to a contract I signed a few years ago. There's been no goodwill, no bonuses, nothing. I'm kind of abused for what I've achieved but I've been contracted to do it, so I have to do it.

"The pressures are incredible. I know the people around me appreciate that but I'm not sure if my team does - not my team as a whole, but the manager.

"With the pressures and the normal life I've lost, I should see the benefits but I'm not. I'm disappointed."

That's the beauty of Cav for a journalist, get him going and he rarely stops until he has burst through the tape, obliterating all and sundry. Much like his cycling.

And when a rider like him - the closest thing professional road racing has to a home banker in a bunch sprint - says he is disappointed with his employers, the cycling world sits up and takes notice. Much like Rooney.


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There is, of course, a good chance this will fizzle out as quickly and as suddenly as the want-away Wazza tale did at Old Trafford.

Cavendish, always quick to share the plaudits when he wins, remains loyal to his team-mates and Team HTC-Columbia's support staff. There is no dressing room disharmony here (well, not with rival sprinter Andre Greipel already on his way next season).

And with a basic annual salary rumoured to be north of £1m, the 25-year-old from Douglas is definitely one of cycling's top earners.

But that contract is now nearly three years old and while Cavendish is nowhere near as bombastic off the bike as he is on it, he has a firm idea of his status within the sport.

It would be fair to say he thinks he is overdue to pay rise. This, however, is where things get complicated.

Team HTC-Columbia were born from the wreckage of Team Telekom/T-Mobile Team. Formerly a well-resourced powerhouse in the peloton, the German-based outfit was brought to its knees by a spate of doping scandals in the mid-noughties.

US entrepreneur Bob Stapleton became the team's new owner and rechristened it as Team High Road. He then began hiring a multinational crop of talented youngsters to herald a new beginning - a moral high road, if you like.

A good first season brought interest from sponsors. First, the US-based Columbia Sportswear company got on board, before Taiwanese mobile phone firm HTC signed up a year later.

With these two firms providing the cash, Stapleton and his lieutenants assembled a top-notch squad, capable of competing in every race on the calendar. The "Chasing Legends" Tour de France was probably the team's high point but there were numerous bright spots.

But when you have reached the top, there is usually only one place you can go, and that, almost imperceptibly and certainly very gradually, is where Team HTC-Columbia appear to be headed.

Don't get me wrong, with five more TdF stage wins for Cav and his points victory at the Vuelta, Greipel's numerous successes and a number of victories for the team's other leading lights, it's not been a shabby year.

But some of the team's best riders have been poached - most notably Norwegian talent Edvald Boasson Hagen and the American stalwart George Hincapie - and the lack of a genuine "yellow jersey" contender has left the team reliant on Cav's ability to win sprints.

Cavendish won five stages during this summer's Tour de France. Photo: Getty

With the Columbia deal up next summer, the need for fresh investment is obvious.

It is against this backdrop that Cavendish's remarks about the pressure he is under start to make more sense. Rightly or wrongly, he feels he is carrying the team somewhat and is being asked to do so without the all-star cast that backed him in the past.

There is another element to this and it relates to a second subject I reluctantly brought up at the premiere: drugs.

There is no doubt cycling has made big strides to tackle what was an endemic problem a decade ago. It also does considerably more in this regard (and at great cost to its finances and reputation) than a number of other sports.

But it has still not eradicated doping and while it is naïve to think any sport will ever totally deter cheating, cycling's reputation is more vulnerable than most. This does not help when it comes to attracting new sponsors to the sport.

So what will become of Cav?

I honestly don't know, although if this was a football story the Manchester City of the piece would be Team Sky.

British, loaded and ambitious, they look like a match made in heaven, and that's even before you take into account their shared links with the all-conquering GB track cycling operation.

There is one big problem with this union, though: Team Sky want to win the Tour de France within the next four years - and winning a Tour and delivering a fresh Cavendish to the front of the pack with 200m to go are probably beyond one team.

Perhaps Cavendish should heed Sir Alex Ferguson's warning about the neighbour's cow.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Basically he wants more money.
    I don't think that there is anything wrong in sports people trying to get as much money as possible but why do they have to lie about it so much?
    Do they think that everyone is stupid?

  • Comment number 2.

    Really good blog Matt. I'm a huge fan of Cavendish, I think he is undervalued in all respects; I mean there is not a British athlete/sportsperson who comes close to being as good as he has this year, except maybe Westwood, yet will that be recognised in the BBC's SPOTY? Unlikely he will rise above the Ryder Cup contenders, isn't it? A great deal of the British public don't even know who he is, let alone how good he is.

    Isn't it a contradiction though to say that HTC-Columbia are lacking a yellow jersey contender and are reliant on Cavendish to win sprints, then rule out a move to Sky because they want to win the yellow jersey? If winning both the yellow jersey and the green jersey are beyond one team (which they are) then HTC-Columbia's lack of yellow jersey contender shouldn't matter at all should it? Winning the green jersey for Cavendish should be their only goal. After all, nothing gives greater exposure to the sponsors than multiple photos like the one just above. But as hinted at, if Cavendish is going to provide the exposure, he should be adequately compensated for that.

  • Comment number 3.

    I can understand Cav wanting to earn more money but there arent too many teams who could afford him on his current salary. If you want to sign him you are going to have to offer more than he is on currently say 1.5 to 2 million a year. Doesnt leave much in the kitty to pay for the standard of other riders you need to sign to support him.

  • Comment number 4.

    Afternoon all, thanks for reading. Some early replies:

    threeofclubs (1) - Agreed. But to be fair to Cav he has pretty much come out and send it straight. Where's my new contract, bonus etc etc? More honest than Rooney.

    BennyBlanco (2) - You're right about Cav. He's massively under-rated in this country. He'd be a huge star in Belgium, France, Italy etc. You also make a fair point about HTC v Sky and the whole yellow/green issue. The point I was trying to make was not that the Sky move won't happen; it's more that it's not the done deal/perfect fit some seem to think. To be honest, I think it would be a good move for both parties IF Sky rethink their short/medium term goals a bit. Is a British winner of TdF by 2014 realistic? Where is he? Would it be so bad to push that back a bit and focus on winning a major jersey? The green one, perhaps?

    fastmongrel (3) - You're right, which is another parallel with Rooney, I suppose. How many teams could move for Cav in 2012? Only two or three, probably.

  • Comment number 5.

    I like Cav - he's a bit of an idiot but he is completely honest and always interesting... and Greipel aside always full of praise for his team mates. Can't blame him for wanting a bit more money either - he's won a lot since he signed the current one and sportsmen have a limited professional life.

  • Comment number 6.

    £1m or more is a v big salary in cycling terms isn't it. Only the real contenders for the podium can expect to be earning that sort of money, so Cav might be pushing his luck looking for more.

  • Comment number 7.

    Re Benny Blanco - agree that Cavendish needs to be in the running for SPOTY, but there's only one man who deserves that title, and it's G-Mac! Winning a major AND coping with the pressure of the entire Ryder Cup coming down to your match and holing 'that putt' on the 16th mean he should be the clear favourite in my book.

  • Comment number 8.

    Comment 2: Cav DOESN'T want to leave HTC, he loves the team, likes everyone involved, and it's one of the best teams for riders such as him. This is shown by when Cav was on the way to winning the points jersey in L'Vuelta, the team had Peter Velits on leadout duties (closing down the breakaway, keeping Cav at the front of the peloton), even though Velits was looking good for a overall podium, which Velits did indeed get. This shows how much GC contenders are not, "valued's" too strong, but i hope you get what i mean, over CAv's pushes for victory and wins.

    Also, Cav wants to actually do some racing, not just be delivered by his team to 200 metres to go, then sprint. He want's to take on Paris-Roubaix this year, which is a very different challenge, and i think he feels HTC and wrapping in him in too much cotton wool.

    Number 6: ! mil is the high end for sprinters etc, Contador was rumoured to be on a £3 million contract with Astana. However, the amount of coverage Cavendish generate's by being the fastest sprinter in the world is unparalleled.

    To attempt to show how much exposure at the TdF means, the marketing manager of the Belgian team Quickstep said that having a rider in the early day break is worth 2 million in revenue to the company.

    A victory, sponsorship deals based on the green jersey, and you can see where Cav comes from in the asking for a better contract, when he add's so much value through marketing.

    Also, i have an issue to the supposed £1 million contract mention below, by all accounts it is a long way short of that mark, as before he signed his current contract, he had never even won a Tour stage, and a contract like that isn't given to someone without a track record in cycling, no way, never.

    But, good arcticle, well thought out and written. It's not often we get this sort of thing on Cycling, and it's very well received, so thanks again!

  • Comment number 9.

    "And with a basic annual salary rumoured to be north of £1m" Yes, but rumoured by the Press which notoriously overestimates sports stars' pay for their own sensational purposes. Cavendish has stated that the rumours are wrong. You have to recall that when he signed the contract he had not won a stage of the Tour de France, now he has won 15 - more than any other sprinter in history except Darrigade (21, though some say it's 22) and Freddy Maertens who also won 15.

    The estimate that I have seen which may be somewhere near is £800,000, which is peanuts campared to other so called stars in football some of whom can't even be bothered to get themselves on the pitch and play for £2.5 million a year.

    Effectively, Cavendish is the Usain Bolt of road sprinting. There is no-one else who comes anywhere near his ability to put in the second burst of sprinting power on top of the immensely high sustained speed at which the bunch sprint approaches the finish line.

    It is probably not in his interest to abandon HTC until he can move to a team who have a team capable of delivering him to the last 200 metres.

    No sprinter had ever won two consecutive Tour de France finishes on the Champs Elysees until Cavendish did so this year. This year was phenomenal and electrifying as Cavendish had lost his key lead out riders and it looked from the live coverage as if he had been edged out....until he catapulted (across the screen) on the far right of the Champs leaving all trailing in his wake as he did in 2009. If he can get through the last climbing week of the Tour next year he has every chance of taking the final stage again. As a previous comment stated, the value to a sponsor of a multiple stage winner and final stage winner is immense.

    I say give him some more money otherwise he'll definitely go when his contract expires.

    Cavendish's physique means that he could continue at a high level of performance into his 30s. He will almost certainly become the holder of the highest number of sprint wins in Tour de France history if he continues as he has won these 15 in just three years. It took Darrigade 11 years to accumulate his 21/22.

    I am not convinced yet that Brailsford at Sky has got what it takes to run a successful road team capable of succeeding in the TdF.

  • Comment number 10.

    I agree with bededebike that the quoted salary is very high for someone who accomplished very little on the road when he signed the contract.

    I'm not surprised by the timing of this as now that Greipel has moved on HTC are heavily reliant on Cavendsih to provide the wins. He is a superstar of cycling and should take the green jersey next year with ASO now making the intermediate sprints worthwhile in response to Cav's unwillingness to go for them, in my opinion.

    I don't think he has any intention of leaving the team at the moment but with HTC seeking a new title sponsor, Cav is their main selling point and having him tied down for more than a year will be a valuable asset. Furthermore, if Cavendish chooses to leave the team in future taking his best lieutenants, namely Mark Renshaw, will be difficult because their contracts are staggered. If he can negotiate a two year deal it will give him even more power when negotiating probably his biggest contract in two years time and he would be able to take his lead-out train with him if things go sour with HTC, much like Greipel has done this year.

  • Comment number 11.

    If someone signs a contract but then vastly outperforms the terms on which they originally signed then it's reasonable to expect a pay rise.

    And my god, Cavendish's performances in the Tour have been incredible over the last 2 years.

  • Comment number 12.

    For further reading, Anthony Tan from Cycling News has done a good piece, i hope Matt you'll allow me to post it below:

    This goes into more detail about what me, bedede and ragerod have touched upon.

    Also, feel free to come to the cycling 606 pages, more posters are always welcomed! We even have fantasy games to help everyone learn more about the sport, and some incredible informed posters willing to help out with understanding things about the sport, and the debates always lively!


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