'It's difficult to think of myself as a pro': Sky's Beñat Intxausti reflects on his long battle with illness

The Basque rider has missed most of the past two seasons through mononucleosis, but will be kept on with Team Sky through 2018

Benat Intxausti on stage one of the 2016 Tour of Poland. Photo: Graham Watson
(Image credit: Watson)

Team Sky's Beñat Intxausti, who ended his 2017 season on Friday with only three race days, says that he has thought about quitting cycling during his battle with illness.

Intxausti raced three days this year due to suffering with mononucleosis. He abandoned the one-day Clásica San Sebastián in August and after finishing last on the Tour of Guangxi stage one, quit on stage two.

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The 31-year-old from Bilbao said "yes" when asked if quitting had crossed his mind this season. "When you're at home and not training and racing, you have so much time on your hands for so long, for sure your head's not straight so your mind wonders," he said.

Sky signed a promising Intxausti from Movistar after he won stages in the 2013 and 2015 editions of the Giro d'Italia. After the start of 2016, he immediately began to suffer with mononucleosis.

"I still don't feel like a professional cyclist because my condition is not at its best,"Intxausti said. "It's a little bit difficult to think of myself as a pro."

"If you were sitting around too, you'd wonder what you are doing," Sky sports director, Brett Lancaster added. "There has to be a cracking point where you say you've had enough."

Intxausti won two stages of the Giro d'Italia while at Movistar (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Intxausti prepared with team-mates Mikel Landa, Jon Dibben and Owain Doull at the start of stage two in South China, just his second race of the season, having watched his team-mates throughout most of the year on television.

He raced eight days in the spring of 2016, including third overall in the Volta a Valenciana, returning in the summer for only seven race days.

"It's was dream to join this team, but this dream has not been very good for me!" Intxausti continued.

"[General manager] David Brailsford and the team have always given me faith and even after China, I'm going to Manchester for the first team meeting. We'll all be together and I'm part of the team."

Sky offered him a new contract for 2018, but with less pay than the original one he had from two years ago. "Yeah sure, it's less money, but the money is not that important now."

Lancaster said that he had not planned on Intxausti finishing the six-day race in China, the last big tour of the season.

"It actually brings a tear to my eye thinking about it," Lancaster added. "He wants to ride his bike, he wants to race. He's been dealing with it for two years now. He can't do much, but he's there to help with water bottles, but his body holds him back."

Benat Intxausti has made fleeting appearances since joining Sky in 2016 (Watson)
(Image credit: Watson)

"I'm a little bit better but still not super after many months away from the sport," continued Intxausti. "I'm not yet in the top condition and it's difficult. I'm just thinking about 2018 now and working towards the complete return.

"Some days I have condition and then I have to stop for one or two days. Yesterday, I was dropped on the climb. I just wasn't feeling good in my legs and body was not responding well. I'm still in a recovery from the virus."

When he trains, he rides for a maximum of three hours. He avoids hills and intense efforts. In a week, he will ride around 15 to 18 hours. "It has been difficult" to stay at home and watch his team-mates win from afar, he says.

"We don't know if he can have a full 2018 return," said Lancaster. "This team has been fantastic, though. There would have been a possibility in another team that if you didn't race they can cancel your contract, but we kept him on. We've done everything we can and worked with him.

"He just has to rest, try to train again, but that's hard when he then has his levels tested and it shows he has to start over again."

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.