Mark Cavendish's chances of competing on the track at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are fading due to serious competition from other riders and limited opportunities for him to score enough ranking points to qualify for a place.
Cavendish enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2016 when he made huge sacrifices to double up and combine his road racing with track racing. He won four stages at the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for a day after winning the opening stage, then fought for victory in the Omnium event at the Rio Olympics. Only Italy's Elia Viviani was stronger, with Cavendish winning a silver medal.
Cavendish has struggled with Epstein Barr virus in recent years but has used the track to help return to his best form, with the hope of riding the Madison event in Tokyo for Great Britain a quiet but confirmed ambition.
Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins finished ninth in the Madison at Beijing 2008 but the event was cut from the next two Olympics. It returns for Tokyo. However British Cycling head coach Iain Dyer has explained why it will be more difficult than ever for Cavendish to compete in Tokyo.
Cavendish recently rode Six Day London and the Gent Six and will compete in a relay 70.3 Ironman triathlon in Bahrain on Saturday with runner Mo Farah and swimmer Chloe McCardel. He is mixing his training with racing in preparation for the 2020 season.
"The door is open but it's extremely challenging to carve out an opportunity at this point," Dyer told the PA news agency, explaining how, with places in the Olympic squad so tight due to IOC quotas, Cavendish would have part of the team pursuit quintet to then ride the Madison.
Ethan Hayter and Ollie Wood took silver in the Madison in the recent Glasgow World Cup and were also part of the British team pursuit squad that took silver at the World Championships in Pruszkow earlier in the year. They and other strong young rider in the Great Britain track team are expected to form part of the quintet along with anchorman and veteran Ed Clancy.
Cavendish's most significant barrier to riding the Madison is Great Britain's focus on the team pursuit and their hopes of yet another gold medal.
"When you're travelling to the other side of the world with only five riders at your disposal you really want to make sure you're covered for both pursuits and bunch racing events, ideally with reserves and flexibility there," Dyer explained.
"You still want to have five that can ride the team pursuit so to have someone who is solely a Madison specialist in there and doesn't have any other availability isn't the perfect scenario. If one of the other riders goes down you've got a problem."
But that feedback has apparently not deterred Cavendish, who, according to PA, remains in conversations with British Cycling about a path forward.
His new Bahrain McLaren team, headed by former British Cycling coach Rod Ellingworth, are supportive of Cavendish's Olympic ambitions, however he will have to balance any road racing and track training. Cavendish is also keen to return to the Tour de France after being overlooked for selection in 2019 while with Dimension Data. But the sport's biggest road race clashes with final track build-up for Tokyo.
Dyer explained that Cavendish, despite being a three-time Madison world champion, would also need the minimum 250 qualification points.
"He needs to get 250 points (to qualify) and he's got to do a counting event within the cycle which would be a World Cup or the World Championships," Dyer said. "Opportunities are now flying by which makes that increasingly difficult."
With the Hong Kong World Cup having taken place last weekend, there are three further events to come this winter - in Cambridge, New Zealand and Brisbane, Australia this month, and Milton in Canada in January, before the World Championships in Berlin in February.
"You don't do a Madison on your own so while it is still logistically a possibility the chances would appear to be diminishing at this point," Dyer said.