Why has Mark Cavendish opted for your Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad over Team Sky?
For part of the reason, you only have to look at the way we won the world trade team time trial in Valkenburg in September. It's simple: we're a strong team and we can ride fast. Another reason is we don't have a major candidate for winning the overall classification of the Tour de France. You don't have to be a mastermind to see that with Wiggo [Bradley Wiggins] and [Chris] Froome in Sky, it could be difficult. Anybody with a clue about cycling could see that that was going to cause a little trouble [for Cavendish to try to win the sprints].
Do you think there was a different focus in Sky this time last year when he signed for them?
I'm not too sure about what they told Cav when he was coming, but Wiggo told me the evening after the world championships in Copenhagen [September 2011] that he could win the Tour. He really believed it, he thought it, and so did I. And I thought, 'Let's see what they are going to do.' And I think everybody in Sky did what they had to do, it just did not work out, simple as that.
Cavendish isn't coming here because he's good friends with me. He's professional. We can give him a team that will protect him; the average height of the Belgians we've got here is probably about one metre 85 [6ft 1in] – they're big fellows – so he'll have some good shelter before the sprints.
What about Omega Pharma's current team leader and Classics specialist Tom Boonen? Is there any chance of a possible conflict of interest with him in races like Cavendish's big pre-Tour objective, the Milan-San Remo? Or maybe in the Belgian Classic, the Ghent-Wevelgem?
Yes. Honestly, we haven't talked about it much, but if you didn't have a conflict like that you wouldn't have a good team. And coming down to a sprint, honestly I think we'll find a solution for that also. I hear what you're saying, but I think it's not because we have got Mark Cavendish or Tom Boonen on our team that we are sure to win. I know that Tom made it look unbelievable, winning all the big [spring] Classics [Ghent-Wevelgem, E3 Harelbeke, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix] this year but do you honestly think that is going to happen every year?
I think we'll be happy to have another rider to go for the win, play [participate] with more horses [top riders]. And to be honest, it's an honour for us to be able to work with Mark.
Could one of the appeals of Omega Pharma also be the presence of riders and sports directors who were his team-mates at HTC, like double world time trial champion Tony Martin, Bert Grabsch and the Velits brothers, as well as ex-HTC sports directors like yourself and Jan Schaffrath?
Tony and Cavendish are pretty close, they really respect each other. And Grabsch and Tony are old-school German riders, they're so quiet and so controlled and strict with their diets, it's almost like robots. So when Cavendish gets a bit loud they just look at him and he calms down.
I can't say what it was like for Cav with Sky, but with all of us from HTC that are here in Omega Pharma, I think for him it'll be a little bit like coming back to the family.
Is the fact Cavendish has always liked Belgium as a racing environment important?
Belgians have always loved Cavendish. His winning [key Belgian Classic] the Scheldeprijs three times was very important for them, and they like the way he talks, his being so outspoken. Then he's got a real appreciation of cycling history and there's a huge cycling culture in Belgium.
I think Mark likes Italy [where he has lived in the past] but I think he's more of a Belgian bike rider than Italian.
Will the aim be to construct a similar lead-out train as Cavendish used to have in HTC? And to go for the green points jersey next summer in the Tour?
I wouldn't be so surprised. These guys we've got in the team, for sure they can go fast for a long time, and you know, with Cav in the team everybody starts to go better. When they know he can win, they dig deeper, always. Of course we have to work at it, but on that account I wouldn't be too nervous.
It's not just what we can give Cavendish, it's what he can give to us. And some of the older guys like Tony and Grabsch have already been calling me, really excited that Cavendish is coming. They're very pleased, and he knows it.