Mark Cavendish is at the Dimension Data get together in Cape Town, South Africa this week, but while most of his teammates have already started training for 2017, the Manxman only wrapped up his long 2016 season after winning the Gent Six with Bradley Wiggins, and so is taking some time out of the saddle.
Cavendish will start his training in early December. His only holiday will be a VIP trip to see this weekend's Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix and then a week in the sun in the Gulf state with his wife, Peta. He has purposely avoided riding his bike this week but has been kept busy as the team prepares for 2017 and a second season in the WorldTour.
"It still feels like the end of the 2016 season for me but I know it's also the start of the 2017 season," Cavendish told Cyclingnews.
"Some of the guys have already started training while I've only just finished racing. It feels a little strange not riding my bike but I think I've earned some time off.
"There's a really nice vibe in the team this week. We've been celebrating the 2016 season with a few drinks and working for 2017. Our sponsors are really happy but at the same time we have to perform next season too. Sometimes the second season is harder than the first and we've got to prove that we weren't lucky in 2016, that our success came thanks to some hard work and a great set up."
The week in Cape Town has also seen the unveiling of the new Dimension Data jersey and importantly the handing over of several hundred bikes to African children as part of the team's Qhubeka charity work. The team has raised funds to supply more than 5,000 bikes during the 2016 season and each of the 28 riders personally handed over a bike on Thursday afternoon.
"It's difficult to explain, you can't understand the emotion a bike can give African children until you see it first hand," Cavendish said, genuinely moved by the impact of the Qhubeka charity.
"We often talk about Qhubeka as a team but when you see what difference it makes you realise that bikes really do change lives. It changes our lives too and makes us more motivated for what we do as professional riders. The girl I presented a bike to was shy at first and overawed to meet us but when she started riding, her smile lit up and she was off. It's going to cut the time she takes travelling to school by two-thirds and so she can spend more time with her family and studying. That's the power of a bike."
Building on the success of 2016
Cavendish and Dimension Data had a hugely successful 2016 despite the team finishing bottom of the WorldTour team rankings. The Manxman again set some lofty goals on the track and the road, but exceeded expectations and silenced those who thought he had lost his sprinting speed after turning thirty and leaving Etixx-QuickStep to join Dimension Data.
Cavendish won 10 races including the overall classification at the Tour of Qatar. Track training meant he spent long spells away from the road but he made up for it by winning four stages at the Tour de France and took the first yellow jersey of the race with a perfect sprint at Utah Beach ahead of Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan.
The Manxman seemed to revel in the ever more chaotic Tour de France sprints, while his rivals floundered. Kittel and Greipel won just one sprint, while Alexander Kristoff endured seven top ten placings but no wins. Cavendish quit the Tour on the second rest day to prepare for the Rio Olympics. He failed to secure a place in the team pursuit four but fought hard to take a silver medal in the omnium, only beaten by Elia Viviani. Cavendish had been hoping for gold but was proud of his silver medal after missing out in previous editions of the Olympics.
The intense training regime for the track seemed to give Cavendish extra speed and agility for the road sprints and he found the form for the end of season World Championships in Qatar. His experience in echelons and desert racing meant he was in the front group that went on to fight for the rainbow jersey. However, he was badly placed in the final sprint and could only come back to finish second behind Peter Sagan.
Cavendish wants more of the same for 2017. “I just want to be successful. Obviously, July and the Tour de France is the main focus for the season but I want to do more road racing and win as much as ever and even more than ever before," Cavendish explained.
“I'll probably kick off my season at the Dubai Tour and want to be successful there in the sprints again. But I want to be successful wherever I race, be it in the spring Classics and stage races. Milan-San Remo is obviously a big goal again. I'd love to win it for a second time.
“Knowing we are all set for WorldTour status is important. It means we can plan for the 2017 season and beyond. We always had to work to be good next year but now we can plan our races and all the background logistics and training for the year.
“We're still growing and developing as a team. We were only a club team five years ago and now we're competing against the best teams in the world. We've made some tweaks and changes to the team structure and the way we do things recently, but it's been done carefully, so it doesn't change what the team is really about, what makes it work and makes it special. I'm sure they'll make us as strong and advanced as the biggest teams in the peloton."
The Dimension Data team remains largely unchanged for 2017, with a 28-rider roster and athletes from 12 different nations. New signings include Britain's Scott Thwaites from Bora, the USA's Ben King from Cannondale-Drapac, talented young Australian Ben O'Connor and South Africa's Ryan Gibbons, who steps up from the Dimension Data development squad. Australia's Lachlan Morton is back at WorldTour level after racing with Jelly Belly in the USA and boosts the team's stage race ability. Matt Brammeier, Theo Bos, Songezo Jim and Kanstantsin Siutsou have all left the team.
Cavendish, Steve Cummings, Edvald Boasson, Omar Fraile and Nathan Haas are again team leaders, with Serge Pauwels, Mark Renshaw, Bernhard Eisel and Kristian Sbaragli also key riders in the roster.
“I think we've made some good signings for 2017. Rolf Aldag is good at building a team. We haven't made any major changes to the roster because that happened for the 2016 season," Cavendish explained to Cyclingnews.
“I think Lachlan Morton is a good signing and I'm sure he'll do good with us. He's already fitted in really well. Ryan Gibbons is one of the neo-pros. I really like his attitude and he's pretty fast in a sprint. I saw something in him when he raced with us as a stagiaire. I think he's quite special and so I'm excited to see what he goes on."
Feeling the fatigue
Cavendish is, as ever, optimistic about the future, but acknowledges he is a little unsure how his body will react and perform after such a long 2016 season. He admits he is feeling a little tired, mentally more than physically, as he recovers from 13 months of racing and training for the track and the road.
"I wasn't too bad until between the London Six and the Gent Six but then I had to keep training while almost everyone else was on holiday and some were even starting their training for the new season. That wasn't easy," Cavendish admitted.
"Now I have to see how I recover from the season. I'm going to start serious training in December rather than in November but I've also raced late into the winter so things will be different. We should know by January how my body reacts and how I'm feeling."
Cavendish is not worried, he just needs to recharge his batteries and get back into training.
"I've been a professional rider for 11 years now and I know it's my job to ride a bike," he said. "I still love it as much as ever, so I'll still get out there and do the work even when I could be enjoying a longer holiday."
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