The fallout over Mark Cavendish’s controversial non-selection for the Tour de France continues to gather pace, with rumours that Dimension Data performance director Rolf Aldag might even quit the race over the decision.
An extraordinary opening morning at the 106th Tour de France was overshadowed by conflicting reports regarding the non-selection of a rider who is not even in Brussels.
Doug Ryder, the team principal of Dimension Data, claimed it was a “team decision” not to select Cavendish, who has won 30 Tour stages in his career and still hopes to match Eddy Merckx’s tally of 34.
However, barely 10 minutes after Ryder had finished speaking outside the team bus, Rolf Aldag, the team’s performance director, contradicted him.
Aldag insisted it was Ryder’s call alone and that in his opinion Cavendish had been going better than in 2016, when he went on to win four stages.
“It’s no secret I wanted him here,” Aldag told reporters. “I think it would suit our strategy but ultimately it’s a team owner decision.
“It’s within my remit to select the team, which I did. I wrote down eight names and Mark was included. And the team owner has the right to overrule me which he did and that was about it.
“And now we have eight athletes here who have done nothing wrong and deserve full support from everybody.”
The Telegraph understands from a well placed source that Aldag is considering quitting the race in protest at the fact that Ryder did not take responsibility for the call. The team denied he had left already.
Cavendish had tweeted following the team announcement on Tuesday that he was “heartbroken”, adding that despite two injury-ravaged seasons spent trying to shake off Epstein-Barr virus, he felt he was peaking at the right time and was “in the perfect place” heading into this Tour.
Asked about that, Aldag agreed, making clear that he alone, rather than Ryder, was capable of commenting on Cavendish’s form. “Well of course, I have physically seen him [riding],” he said. “I’m probably one of the very few who has physically seen him and followed him for quite a while.
“I was in Slovenia and I saw a Mark Cavendish who was certainly about 300 per cent better than he was in 2016 when he dropped out on stage two and fell asleep in my car after 20kms because he was so tired.
“So I’ve seen him there and that’s why I thought he was definitely in a good path, in a good way, and wanted to take him. For me it’s not about media or just to give him another Tour de France [for sentimental reasons]. I thought for the stages that we have he’s a good choice.
“There’s no guarantee so we’ll never know. But again then I refer back to today starts the Tour de France and Mark Cavendish is not here, but there are 176 other riders who are here so they have to be the focus now.”
Ryder had earlier insisted that, while there had been differences of opinion, in the end it was “a team decision” to leave Cavendish out. He also claimed that the team had contacted race organisers ASO to consult with them about whether to leave one of the race’s biggest names at home.
“Mark is a legend of this race,” Ryder said. “It is sad for the race that he’s not here. We obviously took that into account and we spoke to the organisers about that as well.
“We have selected a team based on the course and the route and how hard it is this year. It was multiple people who made that decision, there was a whole team involved, so it was a team decision from our high-performance team.”
He added: “There were differences of opinion. But when you add all those opinions together and the conversations we had internally and all the information that we have available to us, and the route that was presented, the team felt we selected the best team for this Tour de France.”
Cavendish’s contract with Dimension Data is up at the end of the season. Ryder denied that he had a personal issue with the Briton.
“No look, I mean, this was a team decision in the end,” he replied when asked whether there was tension between them. “I’m not the only person who makes the decision on the selection of riders, you know, when we do recruitment, or when we select riders for races. This was a team decision and the best decision was made.”
Asked whether his relationship with Cavendish was therefore good, Ryder said: “Absolutely.”