Cavendish starts 2018 with Dubai, Oman and Abu Dhabi racing block

'By the end of the month, I'd like to be confident that I'm going to be winning stuff'

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) took his place amongst the big-name sprinters at the Dubai Tour presentation, unsure about his form for his 2018 season debut but still hungry to race and win.

He recently joked he may switch his lycra for leathers and try his hand at motorbike racing after his professional cycling career but, for now, he is focused on returning to the level of success that has given him 145 career wins, 30 Tour de France stage victories, the 2009 Milan-San Remo and a world title in 2011.

Cavendish fought back from illness and injury in the final months of the 2017 season and continued to race on the road and track until late October. He enjoyed a short winter break but was soon back training for 2018. He has kept a low profile in recent weeks but is confident of soon being back to his best.

"I didn't have so much time off this winter because I had so much off last year due to injury and illness. I've been working hard to get back to racing. I'm not in any condition that I'll be in July, but I'm happy where I am for February," he said after attending the pre-race press conference and photo opportunity with his sprint rivals.

"The first race of the season is always an unknown. It doesn't matter how hard you've trained, it's always an unknown until you race. There's no expectation from myself or from the team. I've got about a month here in the Middle East: I've got Dubai, Oman and then the Abu Dhabi Tour. It's going to be a nice month. Hopefully, that will build my form. By the end of the month in Abu Dhabi, I'd like to be confident that I'm going to be winning stuff."

Cavendish opted to ride the Tour of Oman rather than risk a spell at home in the European winter as he builds toward his goals for the 2018 season. He will again ride Milan-San Remo in March, perhaps Gent-Wevelgem, Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix in the spring. However, the Tour de France remains the big objective for him and Dimension Data, with only a very slight chance he will ride the Giro d'Italia.

"That's what I'm paid to do: go well at the Tour de France. Everything is built around that every single year," he pointed out.

"I'll perhaps ride Paris-Roubaix, not to win it, but it's the only race where I can support my teammates. Edvald [Boasson Hagen] wants to go for it and there aren't many races where I can repay him for what he does for me during the rest of the year."

Cavendish turns 33 on May 21, and 2018 is the last year of his contract with Dimension Data but he has no serious plans to end his racing days just yet.

"I'll look at my short and long-term options and see what I do," he said, happy to tease when asked about his comments about switching to motor racing.

"I'm at (motor racing clothing brand) Alpine Stars next month getting fitted for my leathers but I'm still going to be a cyclist. I've still got this year anyway," he said.

Cavendish preferred not to comment about Chris Froome's return to racing at the Ruta del Sol, opting to focus on the four sprint opportunities here at the Dubai Tour. He can count on long-term lead-out men Bernard Eisel and Mark Renshaw plus new signing Julian Vermote, who joins from Quick-Step Floors.

The blonde Belgian is known for chasing down the breakaways for his team sprinter but Cavendish wanted him for much more.

"He's much more than a guy who rides on the front. He's good at it, he's the best in the world, but you see more of him because he does it at the Tour de France. He can actually fit in a lot of places in the team," Cavendish said.

Never one to worry about his sprint rivals, Cavendish seemed uninterested in the many transfers that have seen: Marcel Kittel quit Quick-Step Floors for Katusha-Alpecin, Elia Viviani take the German's place, while Alexander Kristoff has moved to UAE Team Emirates.

"It's all the same teams, its just different guys on the end of them," he said laconically.

"I haven't really bothered with it too much. I'm just been trying to concentrate on my own team. We haven't come with a full lead-out train here but we've got a great team. The plan is to build-up the whole team throughout the year."

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