Mark Cavendish's appearance at the Tour de France still hangs in the balance as the Manxman continues his gradual recovery from mononucleosis. Cavendish has not competed since March 18 and, while the Tour de France is inching ever closer, no date for his return has been set.
The Dimension Data team have said that they are reluctant to put any pressure on their star sprinter and will wait for the nod from their medical staff. Mononucleosis affects everybody differently and, while Cavendish's teammate Jaco Venter was able to return to racing in April after falling sick in January, Team Sky's Beñat Intxausti has had both this season and last destroyed by the virus.
"We do not want to exert any pressure. If you do, we might rush things, and there would be no recovery benefit," directeur sportif Rolf Aldag told Belgian news agency Belga at the Tour of California. "Anyone who has ever had mononucleosis knows that recovery can take a long time. The important thing is his health. We must have confidence in the medical staff and wait until they give the green light."
Cavendish's last race appearance was Milan-San Remo. He was supposed to ride Paris-Roubaix but was forced out of it due to a niggling ankle injury. Soon after, the team confirmed that he had Epstein Barr Virus (mononucleosis) and would face a much longer layoff than expected.
Aldag says that the team will not yet put a date on his return, for fear of forcing him into training too hard too early and damaging even more of his season.
"We will not announce now that Mark is there at the [Critérium du] Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse," Aldag continued. "We have to remain calm. Because if you presuppose something, he will train towards that goal and maybe he resumes three or four days too early. Before you know it, he could relapse and his season is over. That's a risk we cannot take."
At present, says Aldag, Cavendish is training, but he is unable to push too hard, and he is under constant observation from the team to check whether his condition is getting better or worse.
"Can you call it training? He must still be very careful with the training work, nothing too intense. It comes in small steps," explained Aldag. "After each training ride, we see how he feels. We always try a little more and see how that goes. He also gets regular blood tests to check how things are with his values."
Undoubtedly there will be concerns for the team that Cavendish will not be able to race the Tour de France at all. However, Aldag remains confident that if he can get fit in time for the race then form will not be an issue.
"Last year he won four stages in the Tour with one race in June," said Aldag. "He rode the Tour of Slovenia, became ill in the second stage and had to abandon. Yet he was strong in the Tour de France.
"Even now, the Tour of Slovenia is an option. He does not have to do many races for the Tour. If he can train well, that will be a good thing. But, of course, you get confidence as a rider if you can race."