The Tour of Qatar will provide Mark Cavendish not only with an opportunity to seek his first win in the colours of Dimension Data, but will also serve as a testing ground for the Manxman before he decides on his racing programme for the remainder of the spring.
Cavendish spent much of the winter training on the track in Manchester as part of his bid to compete in the Omnium at the Rio 2016 Olympics. His fourth-place finish at the Hong Kong World Cup last month has ensured that he has met the qualification criteria, but he must still earn selection for the Great Britain team.
The World Track Championships in London next month is expected to be his next major rendezvous on the track, but speaking to reporters in Doha on Sunday, Cavendish said that he will only make a final decision on his participation based on his sensations from this week’s racing in Qatar.
“I’ve got to get through this race first and then I’ll decide on the Worlds middle of this race,” said Cavendish, who raced at the Dubai Tour last week. “I’ll see how my endurance is. I’ve only done four days in a row. If I don’t hold up after that then obviously my endurance isn’t very good. So I’ll have to see how I go in a few days and make a call then.”
So far, the only certainties on Cavendish’s programme are the Tour de France in July, the World Championships in October and, if selected, the Olympic Games in August. Asked about his likelihood of lining out in some Belgian Classics this Spring, he said: “I’d like to. Obviously we’re not doing Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne this year, so I can’t defend there, but I don’t know my [further] plans until the middle of this week.”
Cavendish combined the Tour de France with competing on the track in the Madison at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, but he noted that the demands were now altogether different, with more precise preparation required for the Omnium’s mixture of endurance and sprint events.
“It’s not tricky, it’s just that every single day counts. It might not work,” Cavendish said of combining his road and track commitments. “It might be that in a few weeks I realise it’s not doable and I have to change everything but I believe it’s possible to do it. I believe there are very few riders who can do road and track at a high level but I think I’m fortunate that I can do that. In 2008, I won at De Panne and the World Championships in the same week.
“It’s difficult to do [now] because track cycling isn’t like it used to be. With the Madison and the points race, endurance events, it was like the more you trained, the better you were, as simple as that. In the Omnium, there are three sprint events and they’re so specific.
“I believe that with careful planning I can do it. I want to win throughout the year, on track and road. You guys talk about the headline races, the Tour, Olympics and Worlds, but I want to win everything else as well. I might not win any of those three but I’ll certainly give it a go.”
A return to Qatar
Cavendish returns to the Tour of Qatar on Monday for the first time since he won four stages and the general classification in the colours of Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 2013. Although he is newly arrived at Dimension Data, there is a familiar feel to the team, with former HTC-Highroad teammates Edvald Boasson Hagen, Matt Brammeier and Mark Renshaw all racing alongside him this week.
“We’d like to win. Dimension Data would like to win at least a stage. We want to be visible and if you’re visible here you’re in the front split. We’d like to win a stage and I think we can come out very successful with the riders we have here,” he said.
The race also sees Cavendish compete on the same team as one-time sprint rival Tyler Farrar for the first time, and he said that the American would play a particularly important role given the absence of Bernhard Eisel, who sustained a broken collarbone in a crash at the Dubai Tour.
“We actually laugh about it, we never thought we’d be on the same team,” Cavendish said. “He’s a guy who’s had me crying with laughter every time at the dinner table, he’s just so funny. And he’s a good road captain. Without Bernie we need somebody who can really take responsibility and that’s really important in Qatar.”