Beñat Intxausti stepped down to Pro Continental level to join Euskadi-Murias in 2019, but the Spaniard aims to eventually work his way back up to the WorldTour. In an interview with Marca, Intxausti said he is fully recovered from a long-term spell of mononucleosis, which set him back over the previous three years, and that he will start his season at the Mallorca Challenge.
"Since July I am finding myself very well," said Intxausti, who was diagnosed with the illness in 2016. "When I signed with the team, I had some good time off to get strong and now I'm good, practically normal, with no problems. I'm improving every day."
Intxausti spent three seasons at Team Sky, where a series of health issues left him with sub-par performances and nearly unable to race. He was not offered a contract renewal from Team Sky and instead found a deal with Euskadi Murias, a team based in his native Basque Country.
"What I was looking for was to be calm and at home with people close to me," he said. “There was another option that we were negotiating, but then Euskadi Murias and Odriozola came in. Rubén [Pérez, sports director] is a very good friend of mine and we trained together for a long time. It is a team from close to home and it can be good for me."
In total, Intxausti spent 11 seasons on the WorldTour. He raced for Euskaltel – Euskadi in 2010 before joining Movistar, where he spent five seasons. He moved over to Team Sky in 2016 through 2018. His palmares includes the Vuelta Asturias (2012), Tour of Beijing (2013), and two stages at the Giro d'Italia (2013 and 2015). He was also fourth overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné and eighth at the Giro d'Italia, among other solid GC performances.
Because of his illness, however, Intxausti only competed in a few events each season that he was contracted with Team Sky. He was diagnosed with mononucleosis in early 2016 and raced 15 race days. In 2017, he competed in two events; Clasica San Sebastián in late July but did not finish, and the Tour of Guangxi in October, where he abandoned on the second day. In 2018, he started three races and abandoned two of them, dropping out of the Tour of Norway on the opening day in May and, although he completed the Norwegian round of the Hammer Series, he was a DNF at Cyclassics Hamburg.
Intxausti said that he should have stopped racing completely during the first year when he learned he had a virus, and that continuing to train and race likely put him into a worsened physical state.
"I should have stopped in the first year, which was when I was worst with the virus," he said. "But it's complicated. When you are at home without being able to do what you want ... in the end you do not know what is best.
"It was also my first year on the team and the rush of that wasn't good company to cure the disease. Sometimes my heart was able to do it. Sky gave me time, patience and confidence, but I demanded too much, I did not know how to be patient."
Intxausti told Marca that he expects the first few races of the season to be challenging for him, but that he is confident that he can return to top form before September when he could make a possible start at the Vuelta a España. His early-season schedule will include Mallorca Challenge, Volta a la Comunitat Valencia, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and Pais Vasco.
"It's clear that it will cost me a few months of work, but I am confident that I will be able to reach what I was before in the medium to long term," he told Marca. "From here to the end of the season, I hope to achieve the level I had before.
"My idea is to return to ProTour, which is where I come from and where I want to be. That excites me."