Mark Cavendish shrugged off questions about his early season form, his sprinting speed and his chances of winning a stage at the Dubai Tour, attempting to deflect any expectations before he makes his season debut with Dimension Data in the five-day race in the Middle East.
Cavendish has planned a more gradual start to 2017 after his well-documented and very intense season on the road and the track last year. He kept racing until the Gent Six and went on holiday when other riders were already back in training.
He also pointed out that 2017 is his 11th season in the WorldTour ranks. He believes he has the experience to judge his form and his results, even when he perhaps loses a sprint. He also knows how to swiftly sidestep any questions he doesn't like as quickly as he passes his rival in sight of the finish line. The silent pauses between his thoughts were as revealing as his carefully chosen words.
"I'd like to win a stage but…. But I'm not starting my season in September to win here. I was still racing at the end of November," he told the media that gathered around him after the official Dubai Tour press conference.
"I didn't win anything here last year. I'd like to… It's not important, in terms of the be all and end all. But I'd really like to win a stage. We'll see what happens," he said.
He batted away a question about the CBS 60 Minutes investigation into mechanical doping and was also evasive about his winter training.
"I didn't see it, I haven't heard a thing about it…." he said of 60 Minutes.
"I had two and half weeks off the bike after the Gent six. I was out here, in Abu Dhabi," he explained. "I haven't started racing yet, so we'll see. I've been training alright but it's different in racing. I've usually raced by now if it's Argentina or Australia. The difference this year is that I haven't done the track."
No pressure in early season races
Cavendish accepted the comparison that the races in the Middle East are like pre-season games in other sports. The Tirreno-Adriatico sprints are perhaps his playoff, with Milan-San Remo his Super Bowl.
"These races are more relaxed than the Tour Down Under, which for the Euro riders is one of the hardest races in the season," he said.
"They're good racing. As a sprinter they're good for your early season form. You come here flying and can do well and get that top end from riding here. The stages are relaxed but then it's competitive at the end and you get that power effort. Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi was a really good combination for sprinters in February. It's a pity we'’ve lost Qatar this year."
Strong winds are forecast for the second half of the race. Cavendish likes a battle in the echelons but warned against raising expectations for some aggressive racing in the crosswinds.
"It's been windy all week here. It wasn't windy last year but it depends how keen people are to take the race on," he pointed out.
"Time bonuses will be a factor but I just don't know how the race is going to play out. The Belgians aren't here with Quick-Step. If the Belgian lot were here, then it'd be different because they get excited about it.
"The Dimension Data team is super relaxed. It's nice, we're going to gel. We've got some young riders including neo-pro Ryan Gibbons, so he'll be learning the ropes, it's nice to come and do that here."
Cavendish shrugged off any suggestions of expectation and pressure; his only sign of aggression was on the media asking the questions.
"This is my 11th season in the WorldTour, so I kind know what to do throughout the season," he said.
"Same old questions at the start of the year and it'll be the same old stuff when I get beat early on, the same old stuff about another guy winning at the Tour Down Under and so he's the big guy for the rest of the season. It's the same every year…"
He did admit he would not be happy if he were beaten in the sprints.
"I'll always get angry when I lose though," he said, confirming he is still ambitious and hungry to win when ever he pins on a race number.