British super sprinter Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) says he is racing with no expectations as he begins racing again in 2019 following six months with the Epstein-Barr virus.
Cavendish began his season in the 2019 Vuelta a San Juan, six months after the RideLondon-Surrey Classic in July. Tests revealed he had been suffering with mononucleosis for around two years.
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“I’m going to race on feelings,” Cavendish said on the final day of the race in Argentina.
“I’m not expecting anything for the first three months of the season, that’s for sure. I’ll always try and the team will support me to try but there’s no expectation to do anything. I’m only human at the end of the day.”
Cavendish’s agreed his long-term goal is to be back to his best for the Tour de France this July.
“I hope so, but we’ll see,” he added. “I believe so, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
The Manxman has sprinted to 30 stage wins in the Tour and is edging closer to the all-time record 34 held by Eddy Merckx. The virus stopped him in 2018, however and unusually for 33-year-old Cavendish, he went home without one stage victory last July.
For now, it just feels good for Cavendish to pin a number on and race again in the peloton.
“It has. It’s nice to gradually get back into and enjoy it more than anything thing. I went from being nervous to enjoying it,” explained Cavendish.
“In the last few days I’ve realised why I ride a bike because I love it [racing] like everyone. Once you enjoy it, it makes you appreciate it.”
The San Juan province sits next to the Andes, dividing Argentina from Chile, and produced sapping 40 degree temperatures during the race, which Cavendish found the biggest challenge on his return.
“Here it’s been the heat. I know it’s the same for everyone but I found it really hard at the beginning of the week. It was a big shock,” he added.
“Each day gets better, it always does. It was hard to tell what the fatigue would be like without the rest day [on Thursday] but it’s not been the hardest race. That’s the great thing about this South American race, the organisers always do a good job.”
Cavendish returns to Europe on Wednesday to see his family and heads to the mountains afterwards to train, before racing the UAE Tour. Along the way, he must be aware of the Epstein-Barr virus to make sure it does not flare up again.
“I’ve got to keep monitoring my blood every month with blood tests. I’ve got to make sure there’s not a trend with the virus,” Cavendish continued
“It’s hard because a lot of people don’t understand it, they think you’re ill or you’re not ill. But it hangs around forever. I’ve had it forever. I just have to make sure it doesn’t flare up.”