Cycling: Cavendish free to join Sky after HTC team folds

 

Madrid

Incredible but true: not even 484 wins in the last four years, including 20 Tour stages for Mark Cavendish, could prevent his HTC-Highroad squad from announcing last night they were quitting the sport at the end of the year.

Even Cavendish appears to have been caught out by the bombshell announcement, which – given HTC-Highroad's consistent position as the most prolifically successful team in terms of wins for the last four years – will leave a significant power vacuum.

As recently as Tuesday, the Manxman said he would not rule out staying with his current team, despite all the rumours linking him with Sky, and most recently with a new Australian squad, GreenEDGE.

However, as Californian businessman and HTC-Highroad team owner Bob Stapleton revealed, last Sunday a phone call from a future main title sponsor pulled the plug on the team.

The irony that the call came during his wife's 50th birthday celebrations was lost on nobody, and left Stapleton immersed in frantic negotiations with their current top backer, HTC.

Those talks also failed to work out and after a last-minute merger with another squad – one of seven which had shown interest in fusing with the team – collapsed too yesterday morning, the writing was on the wall. Stapleton blamed money, or the lack of it, as being one of the big reasons why HTC-Highroad could not continue.

Cycling has traditionally been a low-budget sport – just a few years ago, the entire top league of 20 teams had less than €200m (£174m) to spend, just over half the ¤380m available, say, to top football squad Real Madrid at the time.

But in the last few years the sport has been a victim of its own success: some major sponsors have come in, wages have risen for the top-name players and they have left the middle-budget teams like HTC-Highroad out in the cold. "You have haves and have-nots and that is not an optimal situation," Stapleton said.

"Our view was that if we couldn't be close enough on financial firepower, we couldn't consistently outperform with far less money. And if we couldn't be in a leadership position in the sport, then we weren't going to be in a position to drive change.

"And that [driving change] was our fundamental mission coming in, and if we weren't going to succeed in that, then it was best to let people pursue their own interests."

Probably one of the most telling moments in the lengthy interview Stapleton gave was when asked if he could explain why HTC-Highroad, with one of the strongest anti-doping records out there, was unable to find a sponsor while others with far more murky individuals on their books were able to find backers for next year and beyond. There was a short silence before he said "not really".

However, that conundrum will leave the sport without one of their most impressive line-ups – not just for the men, but also for women, where HTC-Highroad have taken over 40 wins, including two World Cup rounds, this season: no other squad has come even close.

Cavendish's squad are famous, too, for their hard-line, ground-breaking anti-doping policies, which Stapleton was hopeful would persist elsewhere. "[They] will be a big legacy," Stapleton said. "Athletically the team has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, but I'm a little disappointed in the modest impact we've had on the future of the sport."

In terms of individual riders, though, the biggest legacy of all will almost certainly be Cavendish. All 71 of his professional wins have been for HTC-Highroad or its previous incarnations, with whom he turned pro in 2007.

In an Olympic year, the Briton will have to build a completely new infrastructure for his team – such as the legendary "trains" that guided him to a high proportion of his wins – from scratch. That is no easy task, as Sky and Bradley Wiggins found to their cost last year when the fledgling team suffered badly in the Tour.

But Stapleton insisted, in any case, that Cavendish's doubts over which team he would be signing for in 2012 had not affected the sponsor search. "It was not a defining factor. It was more of a chicken-and-an-egg situation. If we could have secured funding in a timely manner, there would not have been a problem. And regardless, we are very proud of his success, and the team that was behind him, too."

Just how many future Mark Cavendishes the sport may no longer see with HTC-Highroad no longer in the field next year is just one question that will now, sadly, remain unresolved.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution