Mark Cavendish will join Omega Pharma-Quick Step next season on a three-year deal Sky Sports News has reported today.
Team Sky confirmed the early departure issuing a brief statement on its website.
"The 2011 world champion had been expected to leave at the end of his first season with the team over a clash of priorities, having seen his winning opportunities in Grand Tour stages limited," it read.
Cavendish signed a three-year contract with the British-based outfit toward the end of last year but leaves the team after one season in which he celebrated 15 wins but felt he could have achieved more and so felt frustrated.
Cycling Weekly understands the 27 year old did not have to pay a seven-figure release fee that Sky reportedly initially demanded when discussions about his future with the team began.
Cavendish will reunite with mentor and former HTC-Highroad sports director Brian Holm at Omega Pharma-Quick Step but is set to go without confidant Bernhard Eisel, who was negotiating a contract extension with Sky at the Tour of Britain last month. The Austrian followed Cavendish to Sky when HTC-Highroad folded at the end of the 2011 season.
Cavendish began to consider an early exit at the Tour de France this year where, for virtually the first time, he did not have the full support of a team with Sky focused on general classification success via Bradley Wiggins. The 2011 green jersey champion won three stages, bringing his career Tour tally to 23, but that was short of his previous average of five.
Wiggins's emphatic victory in France further strengthened the outfit's ambition to win Grand Tours thus limiting the number of opportunities for Cavendish.
"Mark has been a true champion for Sky this year," said team principal and British Cycling performance director David Brailsford in a separate statement today.
"It's been an honour having the rainbow jersey in this team and great to work so closely with a rider I've known since he was a junior. He has been a real team player, making history in a Tour de France winning team.
"Cav won 15 races with us, including his first stage race,three Tour stages, and the fourth win in his unbeaten run on the Champs Elysees. The sight of him winning in Paris, with the yellow jersey leading out the world champion - both in team Sky kit - is something you'll never forget.
"We all wish Mark the very best with his future ambitions in a new team and as British rider."
Omega Pharma- Quick Step has no overt Tour contender and can accommodate Cavendish, who will once again call double world time trial gold medallist and engine Tony Martin team-mate. The 2007 green jersey winner Tom Boonen, who cleaned up at the classics winning Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, E3 and Ghent-Wevelgem this year, also has a leadership role at the Belgian squad.
The team issued its own statement this evening welcoming the Manxman to its fold.
"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," Omega Pharma-Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere said. "Mark will also find a time-tested technical staff on the team, as well as high calibre athletes eager to work with him to reach new, grand goals together."
Owner Zdenek Bakala added: "In addition to raising the technical bar for the team, his arrival will broaden our international profile and team image. Mark is an important player in the gradual growing process in which the team has invested."
Sky to release Cavendish for free
Brailsford keen to keep Eisel at Sky
Cavendish to meet with Brailsford and discuss contract
CW Exclusive: Cav's gilded cage
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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, broadcaster and author of Pain & Privilege: Inside Le Tour. She follows the WorldTour circuit, working for British, Australian and US press, and has covered 10 Tours de France.
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