Beñat Intxausti (Team Sky) has added cyclo-cross races to his winter schedule in a bid to build up his form ahead of the 2017 season. Intxausti endured a torrid year, racing just 15 days in 2016, and was keen to get back on the bike.
He posed the idea of racing cyclo-cross to Sky, who agreed, so long as it was merely a training exercise and not a full programme. After an urgent bike delivery, Intxausti set out to test his new steeds at the weekend.
"They set me up with two practically new bikes," Intxausti said. "[The bikes] arrived on Friday at eight in the evening – the race was on Sunday. They had to be ridden, and on Saturday I went to try them in Amezaga: to fine-tune the bike, the measurements, the tubulars, one day before I was to compete with the new bikes."
"I have always asked the teams if I could do a race as a form of training and preparation, and in this case I have had the fortune that the team have said yes. [It is] all about training, not to compete and have objectives, without thinking in the long-term."
Intxausti rode cyclo-cross prior to turning professional in 2007, but it has since taken a back seat to his road ambitions. Intxausti lined up at the Trofeo San Andres in Amezaga de Zuia on Sunday. He didn't finish, but the race and build-up gave him almost two hours riding.
"It was nice, it's a return to the past and, the truth is, I enjoyed it a lot," he said. "With the warm-up and the race, it was an hour and a half, almost two hours. Afterwards, I extended it with a ride home on my road bike to make it a bit longer and to simulate the efforts of the race. Now I will relax so that later in the week I will do some much longer training."
Intxausti will be hoping to hit the ground running in 2017, after a disappointing first season with Team Sky. He came into this year with high expectations on his shoulders and started well with third overall at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana at the start of February. However, it fell apart soon afterwards when a bout of mononucleosis put him on the sidelines until mid-June. He rode the Tour de Slovénie and the Tour de Pologne but left the latter after just three stages and hasn't raced since.
Despite the disruptions, he remains hopeful that he can re-find the form he once had. "I have a lot of ambitions," he said of his 2017 season. "After so much time lost, sick and sad, I finally I want to enjoy the bike in good health. I am constantly gaining form; we are still in December, but with calm, patience and work I hope to return to where I was before."
Intxausti will be back in the mud this week for the Asteasuko Ziklo-krosa in Asteasu on Thursday. Following that, he will head to Mallorca for a pre-Christmas training camp where his focus will return to the road.