Beñat Intxausti is hopeful that he has a turned a corner after illness ruined his debut season at Team Sky. The Basque rider, who joined from Movistar, managed just 15 race days in 2016 as he was stricken by mononucleosis.
Intxausti started his season in February and performed well at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, but then missed the next four and a half months of racing due to illness. After skipping the Giro d'Italia, his principal target of the season, Intxausti returned to action in mid-June. He struggled at the Tour of Slovenia and abandoned the Tour de Pologne, however, and his season ended in mid-July.
"The truth is that it was a year to forget on a sporting level, it was difficult with the virus," Intxausti said. "Now that the virus has passed, I'm back on the bike and back in training."
Intxausti's was a campaign littered with false dawns. Initially, he retained hope of returning in time to ride the Giro alongside fellow new arrival Mikel Landa. His mid-summer comeback proved illusory and all told it was a trying year.
"My mood changed in mid-September when I did tests and I got the all-clear. I started to do a bit of work there, and a month later I repeated the tests and they were negative again. That confirmed I was improving and I've been happy with the last month," Intxausti said.
In hindsight, Intxausti admitted, he may have been too eager to return to action when his illness first struck. "Maybe we rushed a little. My head said yes but my body did not respond to me," he said. "You can't go against your health. You need time and recovery, and in this case a lot of it.
"It was hard to be at home watching the races on television, especially when I saw my team doing so many good races and I wasn't able to contribute. The team had a great year and next year I'd like to able to contribute."
Intxausti was in Manchester recently for Team Sky's first meeting ahead of the 2017 season, where he was the subject of some gentle humour from his teammates. "They were saying to me jokingly 'Who are you? A new rider?' They know I've gone through a long and hard processes. I needed to be with them, to get back into the routine and think about next season."
Twice a stage winner at the Giro, Intxausti was expected to form something of a tandem with fellow Basque Landa in 2016. The 30-year-old's racing programme for next season is yet to be confirmed, and at this juncture, he is mindful that the comeback will be a gradual one.
"I don't want to think in the long-term, I'm going day by day," Intxausti said. "I don't want to set myself goals. My goal is just to get back to racing, get back to a good level and then see where I arrive."
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