Mark Cavendish headed home from the Dubai Tour without a stage victory but satisfied with his series of placings, revealing to Cyclingnews that he has yet to do any intensity training, and that his season is centered on the Tour de France.
The Dimension Data rider enjoyed one of his best ever seasons in 2016, winning four stages at the Tour de France, finishing second to Peter Sagan in the World Championships and taking a silver medal in the Omnium at the Rio Olympics. Cavendish worked hard on the track and the road during a 12-month season, finishing his racing with victory in the Gent Six in late November.
As a result his 2017 season will follow a gradual build-up with success at the Tour de France again the major goal for him and Dimension Data. Anything else is a plus and his success of 2016 means he can shrug off any criticism and avoid being envious of his sprint rivals if they win early and often in the spring.
"The team has been good in the sprints and my form is better than I thought it would be. It's not that I'm about to win stages of the Tour de France right now but things are good," Cavendish told Cyclingnews after posing for a series of selfies and photos with fans on the final day of the Dubai Tour.
"In Dubai things were a bit nervous in the sprints, but I know my legs are there. I made the front echelon on stage 3 when it kicked off and so that's a good sign."
Cavendish finished third on the first stage of the Dubai Tour, seventh on stage 2 and fourth on the final stage on Sunday. However the statistics reveal only one side to his true condition. He was well positioned in every sprint but was affected by a slow puncture on stage 1, was boxed in on stage 2 and then endured a gear problem as he prepared to jump from Kittel's slipstream in the final sprint.
In the past Cavendish would have vented his anger on anyone near him. This time he appeared to take it well, knowing that his results are arguably better than his form.
"I didn't win here last year, Kittel won it but most people don't remember that, they remember what happened and who won at the Tour de France," he said with a hint of sprinter's pride.
"As I've said for a few years now, as long as my team aren't criticising me, then I'm happy. They have faith in me, they know what I'm doing and that's the most important thing."
Still hungry for success
Cavendish knows he has time to work on his form and will mix training with more racing. He could line-up at the Volta ao Algarve (February 15-19) and then will return to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi Tour, which is part of the WorldTour for the first time. After that he will head to Italy for Tirreno-Adriatico before trying his luck at Milan-San Remo, despite not being at his very best.
Cavendish is still hungry for success. He will always give his all in a sprint and still expects the same from his teammates and lead out. However for now, he is looking to bigger goals in July rather than stressing about winning every sprint he contests.
"I've done absolutely zero intensity work in training, I've just been riding my bike and really enjoying it," he explained.
"I was chatting to my former former coach Rod Ellingworth the other day. He knows me like few other people and he asked me how my motivation was. He knows how much I worked and how much time I gave up to combine my track and road goals last season.
"That made me realise that I'm not ready to be isolated, focused and closed off at the moment. I don't feel I need to do it. I don't have any days were I'm not motivated to ride my bike. That's a nice feeling. I don't know why, it just feels right.
"I'm happy, I'm motivated to ride my bike, happy to be back racing and determined to be at my very best when it really matters: at the Tour de France."