Mark Cavendish Columbia

Mark Cavendish has admitted that losing Gerald Ciolek, a key part of the Columbia lead-out train, is a big blow but he?s confident he?ll still be the number one sprinter in 2009.

Ciolek, who played a big part in each of Cavendish?s four Tour de France stage wins, has joined German squad Milram. Columbia have signed Aussie Mark Renshaw from Crédit Agricole to replace him.

Cavendish said: ?I knew he was going, and I don?t blame him at all. Of course I am very disappointed to lose him but if I was him I?d have done exactly the same thing.

?The guy is one of the top five sprinters in the world and he spent his Tour de France riding for me.

?I?ve lost an absolutely brilliant team-mate and a good friend, but when he?s had a great offer to go and be the number one sprinter in another team, you can?t expect him to stay.?

Cavendish said that although Ciolek would become a rival, he was still confident of beating him in head-to-head sprints.

?Eighty or ninety per cent of the time, I will be faster than him,? he said. ?If it?s my kind of finish I?ll beat him. Gerald is a different kind of sprinter to me. He can do well in a lot more races. People under-estimate him by saying he?s a sprinter, but he?s just a fast bike rider. To me, he?s the next [Paolo] Bettini.?

Andre Greipel, who won a string of races for Columbia, will step up and Renshaw will slot into the lead-out train. ?Andre and I get on really well off the bike so hopefully we can make that work on the road. He?s always been strong and he can win in his own right, but we?ll be working together a lot more now.

?And Renshaw is fast too. Plus he?s a Prince Harry look-alike? He?s going to take a bit of stick about that,? Cavendish added.

Cavendish with Ciolek at the team presentation at the start of this year's Tour de France

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Great Britain
Turned pro
Age 23
Career so far
A graduate of British Cycling's academy programme. Rode as a stagiaire for the German Sparkasse team in the late summer of 2005. Continued with Sparkasse in 2006 and then rode as a stagiaire for T-Mobile at the end of that season. Turned pro for T-Mobile in 2007 and won an astonishing 11 races in his debut season.
Pro wins (UCI ranked .1 and above)
2007: 11
2008: 17 including four Tour de France stages and two Giro d'Italia stages
2009 ? staying with Columbia

Turned pro
Age 22
Career so far
Rode for the German Akud squad in 2005. Won the German national road race championship that year as an 18-year-old, beating Robert Forster and Erik Zabel in the sprint. Turned pro for Wiesenhof Akud in 2006 and won the under-23 world title the same year. Joined T-Mobile at the start of 2007
Pro wins (UCI ranked .1 and above)
2005: 1 German national road race championship
2006: 2 including one Tour of Germany stage
2007: 8 including three Tour of Germany stages
2008: 3
2009 ? moving to Milram

The only major occasion they have raced against each other in opposition was in the under-23 road race at the 2006 World Championships in Salzburg, Austria. Ciolek took the rainbow jersey that day in the bunch sprint. Cavendish was 11th.

See the January issue of Cycle Sport for the story of Team Columbia?s remarkable season. Out now

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Sports journalist Lionel Birnie has written professionally for Sunday Times, Procycling and of course Cycling Weekly. He is also an author, publisher, and co-founder of The Cycling Podcast. His first experience covering the Tour de France came in 1999, and he has presented The Cycling Podcast with Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe since 2013. He founded Peloton Publishing in 2010 and has ghostwritten and published the autobiography of Sean Kelly, as well as a number of other sports icons.