Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) faces an uphill battle to be ready for the Tour de France as he looks to recover from the Epstein-Barr virus. The sprinter has roughly 10 weeks until the Grand Depart in Germany, and while his team are doing everything possible to support him, including drawing up a number of race programmes, they can only hope that they caught the diagnosis early enough.
Cavendish, who has not raced since Milan-San Remo on March 18, was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus on Wednesday after a UCI blood test. The 30-time Tour de France stage winner has had to alter his race programme as a result with the Tour de Romandie and the Tour of California removed from his schedule. His team have been busily creating an alternative plan with the hope that he can line up at the start of the Tour on July 1 on Dusseldorf. Assuming he can regain full health he will race either the Tour de Suisse or the Criterium du Dauphine in June. However, any plans revolve entirely around how quickly the sprinter can recover.
"Worst-case scenario is that he does Suisse or the Dauphine and then the Tour. That's our worst case scenario now," his team boss, Doug Ryder, told Cyclingnews on Thursday morning.
Both Ryder and Cavendish are in Tuscany and the pair met on Wednesday with Cavendish riding 50 kilometres. He is still recovering from a niggling ankle injury picked up in March, but his focus remains on the Tour de France. The mood in the Dimension Data camp suggests that even if Cavendish started the Tour de France it would feel like a significant victory.
"Of course the real worst case is that he doesn't ride the Tour," Ryder admitted. "That would be horrific for all of us and for him, of course. We hope he's just not that unlucky. I thought we had all our luck at the start of the year. He came and saw me last night and he rode 50k. He's looking and feeling a lot better. We just have to monitor things and check his blood every week."
Ryder and the Dimension Data medical team are hopeful that the virus was picked up early enough, and that with the proper recovery programme, Cavendish can regain his full health. The team has recent experience in the matter with Cavendish's teammate, Jaco Venter, having been diagnosed with the same condition in January. The South African recently returned to racing, and although he is not yet at full strength, the team say that he is continuing to improve.
"We are hoping that it doesn't affect Mark's Tour but of course racing is racing. Luckily, we've found this now and not later so it just comes down to time and how he can recover. You never know how long it might take but we believe we've picked it up early like we did with Venter. He was off for three or four weeks, and he's not at 100 per cent condition yet but he's getting there. Maybe Mark will also have that time scale. He's already had two weeks of rest so we're already ahead of the game. That's a positive thing."
In a statement released on Wednesday, Cavendish described his disappointment over the news. He made no mention of the Tour de France, instead choosing to thank the medical team and point towards returning to racing in the second half of the season.
"It is obviously disappointing to have received this diagnosis and in particular to have had to alter my race schedule as a result. Looking back, I have not been feeling myself over the past few weeks during both training and racing and so I am pleased that we have now been able to get to the bottom as to why I've been feeling as I have. I would like to thank the Doctor and all at Team Dimension Data for their help and fantastic support during this period and I will now be working hard to ensure I do everything I can to fully recover over the coming weeks to enable me to be fit and ready for the second half of the season."