Comment: Speculation on budgets all pie in the Sky

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As the Tour de France rumbles on through the scorched south of France the stories centered on Team Sky continue to roll out.

The latest foreign paper to speculate on the fortunes available to Dave Brailsford is L’Equipe, the French sports daily that is the voice of ASO and the Tour de France.

Today in their story on Mark Cavendish’s stage one win they lead in to the fact that the permanent rumours are that the Briton will sign for team Sky next year.

It’s clear to see why they think that. It’s a British team put together by the very group of people that took Cav from an ’18-year-old scally’ (his words) and turned him in to a world beater. And they’ve got a ton of money behind them too. (L’Equipe claims they have a €33m budget. We know that isn’t true, and we know that Sky aren’t telling anyone how much they’re investing in the team.)

But those closer to home than the Parisian based paper know that the likelihood of Cavendish signing for Sky next year is becoming less and less likely.

Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton have cooled in their pursuit of Cavendish. Only a fool would think they haven’t discussed it with him, but the belief is now that they will have to build a team good enough for him, rather than just wave a big cheque book at him, and that takes time.

Columbia HTC boss Bob Stapleton did admit to me on Saturday that he would lose between five and seven riders at the end of this season, and that some riders’ value had gone sky high (no pun intended). He wouldn’t say who was leaving or where they were going, but the clues are there.

He said riders who were neo-pros at the beginning of the year are now being offered upward of half a million Euros a year. There aren’t many teams who can afford to throw that amount of money about, no matter what bullshit comes out of the UCI’s press releases on the economic situation in the pro peloton.

But more importantly Stapleton stressed that Mark was there to stay at least until the end of his contract in 2011. He was joking at the time he said it (he often brings up the Team Sky topic when talking to me before I get the chance.) but there was also a reason he said it. He closely follows the British cycling media, and is keen for them to know what’s going on with the biggest story in British cycling.

The HTC deal (he said he was happy with one magazine’s claim of it being worth between €4 – €9m) will help him keep Cavendish, and has allowed him to bring in up to seven riders for next year. One young Danish rider (that he snatched from under Saxo Bank’s nose) and one ‘shit hot’ young Aussie, as he put it. The identity of the other five were more of a secret.

Of course on September first we’ll all find out where everyone is going, but I’m willing to bet that Cavendish wont be unveiled as Sky’s biggest signing. Although I’ve been wrong before.