Mark Cavendish is still trying to make up for the training he missed due to early-season dental problems, but will start Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday. The HTC-Columbia sprinter has made it clear he will ride Milan-Sanremo even if his form is not as good as it was in 2009 when he won the first Monument of the season on his very first attempt.
Cavendish was in the dentist chair again on Tuesday morning before traveling to Livorno for the pre-race press conference. He has recently had a full dental brace fitted and will wear it for a year to avoid any more problems and possible consequential muscle problems. It seems the pain and problems of the pre-season are in the past and he is confident his form is rapidly improving.
"I haven't got any more problems now. I'm just behind on my training and feel like I usually do at the end of January or early February training-wise. I can't expect too much after the problems I've had with my teeth but I've got to take it how it is," Cavendish told Cyclingnews.
"My form's not the same as last year but I don't think I'm too bad. I'm a lot behind but I still studied the Sanremo route on Sunday and Monday, riding the last 100km of the race. I can't say I can win it but I'll still give it a go this year.
"I was in super, super form last year and perhaps paid the consequences at the end of the year, so maybe it wasn't such a bad thing. Of course to start Milan-Sanremo, my favourite one-day race, with number one on my back, and not with the idea that I can win like last year, that's not nice.
"But there are going to be many more years when I can go for it and I've got other big objectives this year. I've got the green jersey to aim for and to win at the Tour and then the world championships to aim for. So it's going to be a long season."
Seven days of racing
Cavendish trained with his HTC-Columbia teammates Mark Renshaw and Bernard Eisel last week at his base in Quarrata, near Florence. He didn't finish the Strade Bianche race on Saturday but was pleased with how he felt in the hilly, dirt-road race.
Riding the seven-day Tirreno-Adriatico will be a vital block of intense racing that should boost Cavendish's form. He might not beat sprint rivals Tom Boonen, Alessandro Petacchi, Oscar Freire and Daniele Bennati but that is not his goal at the moment. He just hopes Tirreno-Adriatico will give him enough form to be competitive at Milan-Sanremo.
"I felt good in Eroica because I've done some good training in the last few weeks," he said optimistically.
"It's hard when it's raining everyday and there's no one to train with in Quarrata because the other guys all away racing or at a camp. That's why I got Mark Renshaw and Bernie Eisel to come down and we did some good k's. We recc'ied a couple of the Tirreno stages and then I went Eroica. I was actually surprised with my form and it was better than I thought it'd be.
"Now I'll get seven days of racing in and that will play a factor. You can do whatever you want in training but that sharpness only comes from racing. Tirreno is always the best preparation for Milan-Sanremo. Nine times out of ten the Sanremo winner has ridden Tirreno. It's a nice race, it's relaxed, good hotels, nice organization and nice people. It's always perfect for me.
"The first stage should be a sprint and then there should be another next Tuesday in San Benedetto del Tronto. For me, it's not really about the number of chances I get to do a sprint but about getting through it without going too deep and preparing for Milan-Sanremo. The hilly finishes make you go full gas and that's like the finale at Milan-Sanremo. That's perfect training. There's no pressure on me to get results here, it's all about preparing for Milan-Sanremo."
Whatever happens at Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo, Cavendish confirmed that he will ride the Volta a Catalunya and so will miss Ghent-Wevelgem.
"I'll go to Catalunya immediately after Milan-Sanremo and so I'll miss Ghent-Wevelgem. We haven't decided about the Tour of Flanders yet, we'll decide later but I'd like to ride it and I think I will."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.