Tuesday 12 December 2017

Mark Cavendish relaxed ahead of Tour de France after overcoming three month battle with Epstein-Barr virus

Mark Cavendish of Great Britain riding for Team Dimension Data rides during the team presentation for the 2017 Le Tour de France on June 29, 2017 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Mark Cavendish of Great Britain riding for Team Dimension Data rides during the team presentation for the 2017 Le Tour de France on June 29, 2017 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Ian Parker

Mark Cavendish insists he is under no pressure to deliver in this year's Tour de France, having only just made the cut after a long battle against illness.

The 30-time Tour stage winner was confirmed in Team Dimension Data's squad on Monday, having lost three months of the season to the Epstein-Barr virus.

Cavendish won four stages of the Tour last year, but this summer one would be massive for a rider whose participation had been in doubt for several weeks.

"I don't think it will be a failure if I don't win a stage," he said on the eve of Saturday's opening stage in Dusseldorf.

"Apparently it signals the end of my career if I only win three (in a single Tour). But I'm realistic. I'll be happy if I win a stage, we can race as a team and get good results."

This year's Tour route features nine stages which look ripe for a sprint finish, an unusually large number and one that Cavendish could not resist.

"I'm not in ideal condition, but the good thing about being a sprinter is sometimes you can win on luck," he said. "If you pick the right wheels and get the right run there's a chance you can win. It's worth coming here with that chance for the sprint days because there are a lot of sprint days."

The 32-year-old only returned to racing in the Tour of Slovenia in mid-June, having been out since March.

Cavendish said all signs of the virus - which can cause glandular fever - are gone, although he admitted he could not be sure he was over it.

"I was a bike rider because I didn't go to medical school," he said. "The thing about this illness is you can't predict it. If I was on the limit then I wouldn't be here, but I seem to have a good feeling and ultimately it's the Tour de France."

The pressure certainly seems to be off as Cavendish cut a relaxed figure in his team's press conference.

"We'll just see what happens," he said. "I'm the most relaxed I've ever been coming into a Tour de France, because, though there's always going to be external pressure on me for results, I know exactly where I'm at, I know exactly what I've done and every year I know exactly where I'm at condition-wise to be able to come and say I'm going to win stages.

"This year I know I haven't done what I need to go out and be bullish that I'm going to win multiple stages. I'm quite realistic, but there is an opportunity I can win a stage at least."

Cavendish tagged German sprinter Marcel Kittel of Quick-Step Floors as the man to beat in the sprints.

"The pressure is on him to deliver, especially with the start here in Germany," he said.

Dimension Data were not only sweating on Cavendish in the build-up to the Tour as Steve Cummings, winner of stages in each of the past two Tours, fought his way back from a crash in April in which he fractured his collarbone, sternum and scapula.

The 36-year-old returned to racing in some style at last weekend's British national championships, where he won both the road race and time trial to confirm he was in good enough shape for selection.

The wily veteran has enjoyed success as an opportunist in recent years, and like Cavendish he is hoping to find his legs in time to contend for stages again.

"My expectation is simple - just to do my best," he said. "I'm at a good level now. I knew that before, but the weekend kind of proved it. That's a different level to here, but I just want to do my best. Ideally you have this preparation and mine hasn't been ideal.

"That's the way it is. Three weeks is a long time and if you do the right things and really concentrate I hope I can build my condition to better than I started with, and just be on the level I've been on the past few years."

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