Cavendish's Tirreno-Adriatico sprint hopes hit by illness

'I have to accept that I'm not at my best level now'

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) rightly sat at the top table of sprinters at the Tirreno-Adriatico pre-race press conference on Tuesda, but the Manxman played down his chances in the sprints, revealing that he had been ill after returning home from the Abu Dhabi Tour and missed four days of important training last week.

"I was ill at the end of the Abu Dhabi Tour. It didn't affect my racing; I just had a sore throat. I was able to get through it but that meant I was off the bike for four days," Cavendish told Cyclingnews after sitting through the long press conference attended by 14 of the big-name riders at this year's race.

Cavendish has traditionally considered Tirreno-Adriatico a rite of passage for his spring as he prepares for a shot at Milan-San Remo. When he won 'La Primavera' in 2009, he carefully tested but also carefully hid his form during Tirreno-Adriatico, before going on to surprise his rivals and win the sprint on the Sam Remo seafront

After his incredibly successful but also incredibly long 2016 season, which included training for the track and Olympics, winning four stages at the Tour de France and taking second at the end of season World Championships, plus some end of season six-day racing with Bradley Wiggins, Cavendish has understandably opted for a gradual build up to 2017.

Cavendish admitted to Cyclingnews that he had done zero intensity training before making his season debut at the Dubai Tour. Yet he still was close to victory in the sprints and then won the opening sprint at the Abu Dhabi Tour. He was third in another sprint and second in the final sprint won by Caleb Ewan.

Although Cavendish knows he is currently not as strong or as fast as the Australian and Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), he will of course contest any sprint opportunities that arise at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico. His best chance is likely to come on Friday's third stage to Montalto di Castro and then on stage 6 to San Benedetto del Tronto next Monday.

"After the year I had last year, I knew I wouldn't be on great form in the spring. I didn't really have an off-season, so I had to ease into this season and build gradually through the first part," he explained.

As a consequence Cavendish has lowered his hopes for Milan-San Remo, but it would always be a mistake to write him off in any sprint.

"My hopes weren't that great for Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, to be honest. But I like racing in Italy and I like Tirreno-Adriatico. We'll see how it goes. It could put me the other way but I think I'll be alright. We'll see what happens in the sprints. I'm not on bad form but I'm not flying. I can still win sprints because I know how to ride a bike," he pointed out with pride.

"Anyone can be second or third in a sprint. But to beat these guys, you have to be at the top level now. I have to accept that I'm not at my best level now. It hurts, though, because winning is still everything for me."

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