Mark Cavendish's spring so far has been one to forget. He took a stage at the Dubai Tour in February but then crashed on stage 1 at the Abu Dhabi Tour, suffering concussion and whiplash. A crash in the team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico left the Dimension Data rider bloodied and battered as he crossed the line.
Then came the horror crash at Milan-San Remo, where Cavendish flipped over his bike after hitting a traffic bollard, fracturing a rib and injuring his ankle. Cavendish planned his 'comeback' for this week in California, but he returned to racing earlier than expected at the Tour de Yorkshire, eventually abandoning on the final day after finishing the first three stages well down the leaderboard.
"Coming back after such a crash at Milan-San Remo is not easy," Cavendish said on Friday at the Tour of California's pre-race press conference.
"Like Caleb [Ewan] says, this is a good place to test each other before the Tour de France, but for me that's not really the case," the Manxman continued. "I'm still building back up, but for sure I'm not just here to mill around a bit. You only get better by trying and getting involved, and I'll be getting involved in the sprint days and we'll be looking to be successful as a team throughout the week."
California is a good place for Cavendish to rebuild his form. The Golden State has been good to the rider from the Isle of Man. In his six participations since 2008, he's racked up 10 stage wins, second only to 'King of California' Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). Cavendish took the final stages in California in both 2015 and 2016, but he had to miss the race last year after contracting mononucleosis before the cobbled Classics.
"I'm very happy to be back at the Amgen Tour of California," he said. "I was sad to have to watch on television last year, but I'm finally back again, and as always I'm glad we have a stage in Sacramento. I've won there every time I've been there in recent years, so that's kind of a nice finish to the race."
Indeed, Cavendish's 2016 win in the California state capitol came on the final day. He's also won Sacramento stages, which finish with several fast circuits downtown, in 2015, 2014 and 2010.
"If you have good memories, there's always a positive kind of influence to how you ride," he said of his fondness for the city. "I definitely ride with a lot of emotion."
Cavendish will also get another shot this year at the finish at Laguna Seca. The tour returns to the famous racetrack again, having last featured in 2016, when Sagan beat Greg Van Avermaet in a reduced bunch sprint. Cavendish spent the day in the breakaway and didn't contest the finish. He might get another chance this year.
"It's always difficult, that finish, and people kind of underestimate how much – not even just on the track, but even getting into the circuit," Cavendish said, before levelling some criticism at the race motos.
"We almost had a word with the commissaire that year because the motorbikes played a big influence in why the break didn't stay away," he said. "I just hope that doesn't happen, you know, for any sport. It's kind of a big problem in cycling right now. Not this race, but just in cycling right now the motorbikes are influencing a big part of the race, and I just hope that doesn't happen."