PARIS (Reuters) - Spint ace Mark Cavendish is leaving Team Sky in order to fulfil his Tour de France ambitions after spending this year's race serving as a domestique for race winner Bradley Wiggins, the British team said on Thursday.
Briton Cavendish, the 2011 world champion who has 23 Tour de France stage wins, will join Belgian team Omega Pharma-Quick Step for the 2013 season.
Sky's Team Principal Dave Brailsford said Cavendish had been instrumental in the relatively new outfit's success.
"Mark has been a true champion for Team Sky this year," he said in a statement confirming Cavendish was leaving.
"It's been an honour having the rainbow jersey in this team and great to work so closely with a rider I've known since he was a junior.
"He has been a real team player, making history in a Tour de France winning team."
Wiggins was Team Sky's only priority on the Tour this year as he became the first Briton to win the world's greatest cycling race.
The 27-year-old Cavendish, who had benefited from his team mates' help the previous year to win stages, was no more than a domestique in 2012.
He still claimed three stages victories in July, including on the final day on the Champs Elysees.
"Cav won 15 races with us, including his first stage race, three Tour stages, and the fourth win in his unbeaten run on the Champs Elysees," Brailsford added.
"The sight of him winning in Paris, with the yellow jersey leading out the world champion - both in Team Sky kit - is something you'll never forget."
"We all wish Mark the very best with his future ambitions in a new team and as British rider."
The move is not related to the anti-doping ultimatum Sky sent to their riders and staff on Wednesday as Cavendish's departure had been in the works for about two months.
On Tuesday, Sky said that members of the team would be sacked unless they sign a document saying they have never doped or have never been involved in doping activites.
In a statement Sky said any team members, including riders, staff and management, who refused to sign or were found to have lied would be kicked out. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; additional reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Justin Palmer)