CYCLING'S biggest signing news of the season was finally confirmed when Team Sky announced reigning world champion Mark Cavendish would be racing with them in 2012.
Initially leaked in June, Cavendish's more-than-probable signing threatened to become the worst-kept transfer secret of the season.
However, last-minute hiccups, reportedly over secondary sponsorship deals and image rights, kept the will-he-won't-he suspense going right up until Sky's announcement.
The 26-year-old Manx rider's securing of Great Britain's first ever Tour de France points jersey for best sprinter this summer, along with five more stages, already made the identity of Cavendish's future team the sport's big unanswered question for 2012. The news that his current squad, HTC-Highroad, would be folding, coupled with clinching the World Championships, raised the stakes even higher.
While Cavendish seemed to dither to the last minute, Sky were predictably ecstatic about ironing out any last-minute issues and signing "their"man.
"Mark is the greatest sprinter of his generation and is well on his way to becoming the greatest of all time," said the team principal, Dave Brailsford. "He is a rider of exceptional talent, who has proved his pedigree at the very highest level of our sport."
Cavendish's signing for Sky after five years with the American HTC team closes the circle in more ways than one, given that, in 2007, the Manxman, with 11 wins in his first year as a professional, originally sparked Brailsford's idea to form Sky. But for Cavendish, who now has a whopping 75 wins in his palmares, arguably the strongest link with his new squad and perhaps a key reason why he has gone to Sky is Rod Ellingworth, the team's road coach and former director of Britain's talent school, the Olympic Academy.
As Cavendish once memorably put it, the Academy "changed me from a fat banker" - his first job on the Isle of Man - "into a bike rider". Ellingworth was also behind the driving wheel of the GB team car when Cavendish took Britain's first World Championship title in 46 years this autumn, but several other familiar Sky faces from the GB line-up such as Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas and Jeremy Hunt were all instrumental support workers in Cavendish's biggest ever win.
The biggest ingredient missing from Sky's future back-up for Cavendish is Australia's Mark Renshaw, almost invariably the last rider in the string of HTC riders that would launch the Briton towards the finish line, along with American George Hincapie. It will be intriguing to see how Sky replace two hitherto apparently crucial elements of Cavendish's support network.
The other leading question is how Cavendish's designs for Tour de France success will harmonise with those of Wiggins aim of winning it outright.
But the big news is that Sky have now brought together Wiggins and Cavendish, Britain's top two riders, in a move which makes them one of the three most powerful squads on the planet.