Cavendish to kick off 2017 season at Dubai Tour

Dimension Data sprinter building gradually after intense 2016

Mark Cavendish has confirmed he will get his 2017 season underway at next week's Dubai Tour before returning to the Gulf later in February for the Abu Dhabi Tour. He will then head to Italy for Tirreno-Adriatico to prepare for another shot at Milan-San Remo. Cavendish's big focus for 2017 will again be the Tour de France sprints, just as in 2016, when he won four stages and wore the leader's yellow jersey for a day.

Cavendish attended the presentation of the Abu Dhabi Tour route on Tuesday and is again the ambassador for the race. He has stayed in the UAE, training on the specialty cycling circuit in Abu Dhabi on Thursday an enjoying the warm weather. The Dubai Tour begins next Tuesday with Cavendish leading the Dimension Data team in three expected sprint finishes. He won two stages in 2015 and also took overall victory.

Cavendish started his 2016 season in Australia but has a planned a more gradual start to 2017 after his well-documented and intense season on the road and the track last year. By combining his road and track training he won a silver medal in the Omnium on the track, had huge success in the Tour de France and ended the season with a silver medal in the World Championships in Qatar. He kept racing until the Gent Six in December and went on holiday when other riders were already back in training.

"I could do as well in 2016, why not, but I won't ride on the track. My season will begin on January 31 in Dubai," Cavendish told Gazzetta dello Sport in a brief interview.

“After Abu Dhabi I've got Tirreno-Adriatico on my programme and then San Remo. A second win at the Classicissima would be great but it’s the hardest race in the world to win and I don’t how my form will be, everything is built around the Tour de France this year."

Chasing the Cannibal's Tour de France record

With 30 stage victories at the Tour de France, Cavendish is only four short of equalling the record set by Eddy Merckx. Cavendish has often joked that he is not worthy to even wash Merckx's feet but now seems the record as something to aim for in the final part of his hugely successful career.

"It's not an impossible goal but Merckx will always be the best ever," he said. "I like the route of the Tour: there are mountain stages for the overall classification and flat stages for the sprinters, there are fewer intermediate stages."

Cavendish and Dimension Data are keeping his full race programme under wraps. He has ridden the Tour of California for the last three seasons but has a soft spot for the Giro d'Italia, where he was won 15 stages. There is a chance he could return for the 100th edition of the Corsa Rosa as he works to polish his form via a block of intense racing, but he makes it clear he's not a fan of the mountain-packed final week.

"I could ride it but I don't know my programme yet," Cavendish said. "It's a race I adore even if that final week is not exactly made for the sprinters."

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