Mark Cavendish will start at the inaugural Adriatica Ionica Race in Italy on Wednesday, where a stage win or two would give him a confidence boost before he heads to the Tour de France.
Cavendish has won just one race so far this year – a stage at the Dubai Tour in February – in a season that was blighted by crashes early on. The British sprinter rode the Tour of Slovenia rather than the more traditional route of riding either the Critérium du Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse in the build-up to the Tour, and now heads to the Adriatica Ionica before racing at the British road race national championships the weekend.
Dimension Data have yet to reveal their eight-man roster for the Tour de France, which starts in Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile on July 7, but in addition to Cavendish, Australian Mark Renshaw is a pretty safe bet for a berth, and will line up alongside his team leader at the Adriatica Ionica to fine-tune his lead-out man duties with just over a couple of weeks to go until the start of the Tour.
The new five-day UCI 2.1-ranked race takes place in Italy's Veneto region, starting on Wednesday in San Donà di Piave with a 23.3km team time trial.
Stage 3 on Friday should be the highlight of the new race, when riders face a summit finish on the Passo Giau. The race then concludes in Trieste on Sunday with another gently undulating stage that could see the sprinters' teams line up one of their own as a possible winner, in addition to opportunities on stages 2 and 4.
"It is always nice to start the first edition of a race and in a region that doesn't see all that much top-level racing," said Dimension Data directeur sportif Jean-Pierre Heynderickx. "All organisers like to offer up something special or unique to their event, so we look forward to this from the Adriatica Ionica Race.
"For us, we don't have a rider for the Passo Giau stage, and therefore the GC," he continued, although South African Nic Dlamini may have something to say about that, "but our focus is to give Mark and the team the opportunity to complete the final preparations ahead of the Tour."
Dimension Data for the 2018 Adriatica Ionica Race: Mark Cavendish, Nic Dlamini, Ryan Gibbons, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Mark Renshaw, Jay Thomson