Are Etihad Airways about to become the title sponsor of MTN-Qhubeka for 2016, in a deal that would facilitate Mark Cavendish’s move to the team?
The Abu Dhabi-based company already sponsor Manchester City Football Club and England cricket team, although this rumoured move would be their first high-profile foray into cycling.
Etihad have been linked to potential sponsorship of cycling teams before: the airline was reportedly set to become the main backer of Fernando Alonso’s team that failed to materialise.
Telecommunications company MTN’s association with the team will finish at the end of 2015; the Manxman securing a big-money backer has been a requisite of any potential move to the African-registered squad.
The team’s current budget is believed to be €7.5m (£5.4m); Cavendish can still command a seven-figure salary.
MTN’s general manager Brian Smith told the Guardian earlier this month: “Everything is positive towards it, but who pays for him to come? We’re flattered by him thinking of it, everything is possible, it’s just the money situation; we can’t afford him.”
Cavendish was in the UAE capital last week to help launch the jerseys of next month’s inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour. He is the event’s ambassador, while Etihad will sponsor its black intermediate sprints competition.
News on Cavendish’s future is expected to be announced in the coming weeks; his current Etixx-Quick Step team-mate Mark Renshaw is likely to follow the 30-year-old Briton to MTN.
However, it’s unclear whether or not Cavendish’s long-standing friend Bernie Eisel and Etixx DS Brian Holm will also make the move.
Cycling Weekly has contacted MTN, Cavendish’s agent and Etihad for comment; the team were unable to comment, the latter two failed to respond to our enquiries.