Mark Cavendish, winner of 30 Tour de France stages, will race for Team Bahrain-Merida in 2020, according to sources who are familiar with the deal.
The sources contacted believe Bahrain-Merida will announce Cavendish as their new rider next week, along with the official appointment of Rod Ellingworth as team principal.
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One insider at the team says Ellingworth officially begins work on October 1, though it is clear he has already been working in the background, hiring riders like Wout Poels from Ineos as well as Cavendish.
“It’s official, Cavendish is racing for Bahrain-Merida next year,” a source contacted by Cycling Weekly said. “They are waiting to announce it, but the deal is done.”
Cavendish will leave Dimension Data after four years, which included four Tour de France stage wins to bring his tally up to 30. However, he has suffered these last few years due to crashes as well as contracting the Epstein-Barr virus. Dimension Data boss Doug Ryder then decided to leave Cavendish out of their Tour de France squad for 2019, the first time he has not raced the French Grand Tour since his debut in 2007.
Cavendish once pulled in six Tour stage wins in 2009 and his goal had been to equal and pass the record of 34 stage wins by Eddy Merckx.
Ellingworth previously coached Cavendish in the British Cycling Academy and as a professional when Cavendish raced for T-Mobile/HTC-Highroad. The pair teamed up once more in the year Cavendish wore the rainbow bands when he rode for Sky in 2012. Bahrain-Merida’s new team principal will have faith he can get Cavendish back to his previous best for the 2020 season.
British motorsport giant McLaren is now a 50% partner in the Bahraini outfit, and the team will welcome the publicity that only a few riders like Cavendish can bring to a team. Exactly how he will fit into the roster when the new season rolls around remains to be seen, with the squad taking on Wout Poels and Mikel Landa to compete for general classifications while also already counting sprinters such as Sonny Colbrelli among their ranks.
One insider contacted for this article believes Cavendish’s long-time helper Bernie Eisel will not make the switch from Dimension Data but instead retire. Eisel, winner of Ghent-Wevelgem in 2010, had to have brain surgery after a crash in 2018 but has successfully returned to racing. Cavendish’s other long-term lieutenant Mark Renshaw recently retired following the Tour of Britain.
The 2020 season could be Cavendish’s last, and sources believe he has signed a one-year deal, targeting a return to the Tour de France and the 2020 Olympics.
Bahrain-Merida was not immediately available for comment.