By Nigel Wynn
Newly-crowned road race world champion Mark Cavendish is at the centre of more speculation relating to which team he will sign to for the 2012 season.
The new round of rumours link the Manx sprint sat to the Belgian Omega Pharma-Quick Step team. The rumours were fuelled by the announcement on Monday that Cavendish's HTC-Highroad bike sponsor Specialized has inked a deal with Omega Pharma for 2012 - and Specialized are said to be Cavendish's bike of choice.
In addition, Cavendish's former HTC-Highroad director sportif Brian Holm has also been signed up by Omega Pharma along with team-mates Matt Brammeier, Tony Martin, Frantisek Rabon, Martin Velits and Peter Velits.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step general manager Patrick Lefevre was quick to quash the rumours, saying that he had already signed the maximum number of riders allowed on a ProTeam (30) and that they couldn't afford to sign Cavendish anyway.
Cavendish is hot property. A consistent, reliable winner who has won two of the sport's biggest prizes this year - the Tour de France green jersey and world championship title. He was recently ranked as 35th most marketable athlete in the world by Sports Pro Media.
Despite most riders having already announced their teams for 2012, Cavendish has held out on making a formal announcement until after the World Championships. Sensibly, he has kept the ace up his sleeve before finalising a new contract - a rider in rainbow stripes is worth much more, and Cavendish must now be at the absolute peak of his earning potential. A deal worth at least €1.5 to 2million a year is not out of the question.
"It's not about the money," Cavendish said in August. "I have a value, I'll get the same money whichever team I'll go to. I want to go the best place that will help me win."
Current rumours aside, Cavendish has been consistently linked with the British-based Sky team since it was created in 2009. The team includes several management figures who have been instrumental in helping Cavendish achieve success on the road. Most important of these is GB coach Rod Ellingworth, who set out a three-year plan to get Cavendish in the rainbow jersey.
It is understood that Cavendish and loyal lead-out man/super-domestique Bernhard Eisel had both reached an agreement with Sky after the Tour de France, where Cavendish won the green jersey.
However, no contracts were signed with Sky and in September Cavendish has signed up with the Wasserman Media Group, an agency that represents several top sportspeople including footballers Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard.
Wasserman will likely broker any new deal that comes Cavendish's way, and will also be looking after his personal sponsorships deals from the likes of Nike and Oakley. It signals a new, perhaps more aggressive phase in marketing Cavendish as a global brand.
Wasserman senior vice president Simon Bayliff said of Cavendish's signing to the agency: "Mark is one of the world's top sportsmen and we're looking forward to helping him to realise his ambitions and achieve his goals in this key phase of his career. He's an exceptional talent and his successes to date simply underline his potential to become one of the greatest cyclists of all time."
Cavendish is excepted to announce which team he will be riding for in the next week. His first race in the rainbow jersey will be Paris-Tours on Sunday.
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Comment: Speculation on budgets all pie in the Sky
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