The rumor mill is going fast and furious about the future of Mark Cavendish. Both the Daily Mail newspaper and De Telegraaf are reporting that the Manxman has an agreement in place to join Team Sky for next year.
Now Gazzetta dello Sport has uncovered news that Cavendish may sign with US continental squad Jelly Belly. According to an undisclosed source, the Manxman would sign for three years with guarantees that the squad will register as Pro Continental in 2012 and ProTeam in 2013.
“I can’t comment, all I can say at this time is we’re insanely excited,” said Jelly Belly director sportif Danny Van Haute. Bringing on the biggest name in sprinting would be a huge coup for the Jelly Belly sponsor which makes a variety of gourmet jelly beans, including Juicy Pear, Watermelon, A&W Cream Soda, Very Cherry and Buttered Popcorn.
“Mark’s looking for new challenges, not just a switch to another big budget team,” says former British Cycling coach Bryan McLaren. “It would be easy for him to just take the money but he’s still hungry. He wants to show he can win with any team, even without a train.”
HTC-Highroad DS director sportif Allan Peiper was confident that neither the Sky or Jelly Belly scenario would come to pass. “It’s hearsay at the moment. As far as I know it’s just a rumor,” he said. “Mark has been with us five years and we’ll give ourselves the opportunity to see about his future.”
Don’t count the Jelly Beans out of the race just yet. The candy maker is the longest running sponsor in USA cycling and has ambitious new expansion plans. With US-based teams like UnitedHealthcare and Team Type-1 moving up to Pro Continental, Jelly Belly sees a huge opportunity in jumping up the ranks to a global stage.
“Do we want to grow the business? Yes. Do we see ourselves as a world wide player? Certainly,” says Jelly Belly marketing director Rick Schulte. “Cavendish would definitely takes us right to the top very fast.”
With Sky reportedly offering Cavendish £1.5 million, it remains to be seen how the Fairfield, California candy company could afford a superstar like the top-ranked sprinter. “It would take some creative restructuring but they can find the money. Plus there are plenty of other incentives, ” says Jonathan Belknap, a sporting marketing consultant. “For example, they could create a special jelly bean flavor for him. A young guy like Cav might really like that.”
Some media experts think the Jelly Belly move is the sweetest deal on the table. “You have to look at his career in terms of story, dramatic narrative, at where he sees his future,” says Michelle Tiara, a talent agent with the powerhouse CAA firm in Hollywood. “Little kid from the island of Man, dominating Tour de France wins, Member of the British Empire. He’s thinking about the next book, not the next buck. Sky isn’t a great story. Jelly Belly is.”