On the day that the new WorldTour season began, Astana-Qazaqstan has confirmed the signing of British road champion and illustrious sprinter Mark Cavendish on a one year contract.
The team first posted a cryptic photo of the British champion on their Twitter in what is clearly a team jersey, before releasing a full statement half an hour later.
As a result, the 37-year-old will continue on the WorldTour in 2023, where his main objective is likely to be surpassing the all-time record for the number of Tour de France stage wins.
The tweet all but confirmed it, before a full statement was released. "Still waiting" the team said alongside a photo of Cavendish in a British national champion's Astana jersey.
His contract is for just 2023, according to the squad. No news on the status of leadout man Cees Bol has been released.
Cavendish said the "hunger to continue winning" was "as bright as ever".
"I am really excited for this adventure," he said in a press release. "I raced with Alexandr Vinokurov for many years, and now I’m racing with his 2 boys! I remember when they were children the same age as my own, dreaming to be bike racers. Astana Qazaqstan Team is going to be a great place to be successful, with a strong team led by Alexandr, a champion on the bike and a gentleman off the bike.
"I’ve enjoyed a long career already, but the joy of riding my bike and the hunger to continue winning are as bright as ever. So I’m looking forward to being part of a successful team, whether working with the team for wins, crossing the line first myself, or cheering on my teammates.
"As always, the objective will be for us to stand on the top podium."
The Kazakh team freed a space in their squad last month when they terminated the contract of Colombian climber Miguel Ángel López, citing his “probable connection” to a doctor under investigation in a doping case.
Vinokourov, the team's general manager, said that they would support him with "all our forces".
"Well, Mark Cavendish doesn’t need any presentation," he said. "He is the best sprinter of all times, and I am happy to welcome Mark in Astana Qazaqstan Team. The arrival of a top sprinter in our team is kind of challenge for us, but we are ready for it. We see new ways and new possibilities.
"The goals however are still the same – victories in any kind of race: Classics, stages in different stage races and, of course, in the Grand Tours. Mark still has a big desire to win and we are going to support this feeling with all our forces in all kind of races."
Cavendish, who knew as early as July that he would not have his contract renewed at Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, has been heavily linked with a number of top-level teams in recent months.
Still waiting? pic.twitter.com/rZz1YWeoT1January 17, 2023
The strongest rumours were with French outfit B&B Hôtels-KTM, but following the team’s collapse in December, the sprinter looked to be without a contract for 2023.
Though Astana-Qazaqstan have not historically built their squad around a sprinter, signing Cavendish gives the team a unique chance at making history. Currently, the Manxman is tied with Eddy Merckx on a record 34 Tour de France stage wins. Should he claim another victory next July, he’ll become the sole, all-time record holder.
Speaking after winning his second British national title in June, Cavendish said: “Can you imagine winning a 35th Tour de France stage in the British champion's jersey? It'd be really beautiful."
Cavendish has raced on WorldTour teams since 2009, notably riding for HTC-Columbia, Team Sky, Quick Step and Dimension Data. Over the course of his career, the Brit has taken part in 21 Grand Tours, claiming over 160 career victories, including the Road World Championships in 2011.
Astana-Qazaqstan will be Cavendish's sixth team at the sport’s highest professional level.
The Kazakh team, managed by former pro Vinokourov, have been involved in a number of doping scandals since their inception in 2007. Vinokourov himself tested positive for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France and was dealt a one-year ban.
Former team leader Alberto Contador was also stripped of the 2010 Tour de France title he won in the team’s colours, after he returned a positive result for the banned substance clenbuterol.
Last week, Cavendish was photographed by a fan at Alicante airport as he loaded luggage into an Astana team car, and in December, Vinokorouv told Cyclingnews that he phoned Cavendish when he heard the B&B team was in trouble.
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