Ending months of speculation, Sky announced Thursday that Mark Cavendish would leave the team to join Omega Pharma-Quick Step in 2013.
“He has signed a three-year deal with the Belgian team, whose main sprinter until now has been veteran Tom Boonen,” read the statement from Sky. “Cavendish leaves Sky after 14 victories, the last three of those coming in the Tour of Britain, a race he led for one day.”
Omega Pharma confirmed the transfer, which came after “long negotiations,” later on Thursday.
“Mark is the best sprinter in the world and one of the all-time best sprinters, ever” said team manager Patrick Lefevere. “With his arrival the team will be even more balanced and it will be enriched with another top rider, who will become the man to count on in the sprint, just as Tony Martin is the point man for the time trial and Tom Boonen the best rider for the northern classics. Mark will also find a time-tested technical staff on the team, as well as high caliber athletes eager to work with him to reach new, grand goals together.”
Omega Pharma on Tuesday fired Levi Leipheimer, who last week detailed his previous doping practices after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released his name as one of 11 former Lance Armstrong teammates to testify in the case against the Texan. Leipheimer admitted to using performance enhancing drugs and methods between 1999 and 2007, and the team acknowledged that no suspicion surrounded the American during his one-year tenure.
Cavendish took to Twitter on Thursday to confirm the move:
After a while away from twitter, I’m pleased to return with the announcement I’ll ride for @opqscyclingteam Omega Pharma-Quickstep next year
The former world champion said in the Omega Pharma press release that his time at Sky had been fun and that he looked forward to working with former teammates at the Belgian squad.
“After a year of being part of the successes at Team Sky I’ve decided to leave to join Omega Pharma–Quick Step Cycling Team to pursue different goals,” said Cavendish. “It’s been an incredibly fun year riding with friends I’ve grown up with, but I’m super excited about riding with old friends and teammates in one of the most successful and established teams in cycling. I believe in the team’s project and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
It is unclear at this point whether Sky enforced a buy-out of the Manxman’s contract, via cash or trade. The 27-year-old, who has won 23 stages at the Tour de France and was the 2011 world road race champion, expressed a desire to move on from the British squad just seven months into a three-year contract, believing Sky’s stated ambitions and his own no longer matched.
Earlier this week Cavendish was preparing for a second season with Sky after protracted talks over an early termination broke down, but now the Isle of Man native will get his wish to move on.
Agence France Presse contributed to this report.