What a momentous season it was for MTN Qhubeka in 2015 . There has been a veritable plethora of stage wins and classification jerseys in across a number of races. There has also been a consistent outpouring of general good feelings toward this African outfit. It looks possible that the team could be promoted to the World Tour for 2016. This is something they richly deserve- a chance to shine at all the world’s top races. The management busily been preparing for next year by making a number of key rider signings, none more headline grabbing than that of a certain Cavendish, Mark.
The boy racer has grown up in both a cycling and personal context. The desire to win, however, is undiminished and Cavendish will look to continue his winning ways in 2016, as well as wrest back the title of unofficial world’s best sprinter. But another signing has got me thinking.
Roger Hammond is leaving Madison Genesis to become a DS at the reincarnation of MTN, Dimension Data. Hammond is well known for skills at cyclocross, but also excelled on the cobbles throughout his career, famously finishing 3rd in Paris-Roubaix in 2004, and 4th in 2010. He will no doubt be expected to provide a bit of insight into racing the cobbles and provide leadership for the classics group of riders.
Cavendish has a successful record when it comes to the ‘flatter’ sprinters cobbled classics, such as Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Scheldeprijs and Gent-Wevelgem. His record in the classics which make greater use of the Flemish Ardennes, such as the E3 and Tour of Flanders, or the Hell of the North is nonexistent. I’m not even sure how often, if ever, he has ridden these races. Could this be about to change?
Brian Smith, DS at MTN and a key mover in getting Mark signed, is looking for a different approach from his new charge and has also hinted at a tilt at Paris-Roubaix. With the era of Boonen and Cancellara coming to an end, is it too much to expect Cav to reinvent himself in their image? Perhaps it is, but it is clear that he has the stamina to ride the longer, harder races and has the tactical nous to deal with, for example, cross winds and positioning. With Hammond’s guidance could he find the remaining ingredients required to be a contender and take on the likes of Degenkolb and Kristoff on the cobbles?
At the moment the man seems more focused on Brazil 2016. It’s heavy metal he’s after, not heavy stone. But it would not surprise me if Cav followed a new pavé to glory in the near future.