Team Dimension Data remain hopeful that Mark Cavendish will recover in time to race the Tour de France, after being diagnosed with infectious mononucleosis – better known as glandular fever – earlier this month.
However, team principle Doug Ryder admitted time was not on their side.
The Manxman has not raced since Milan-San Remo on March 18 and had initially been suffering from an ankle injury that ruled him out of Paris-Roubaix. Yet after experiencing unexplained fatigue when training he was later diagnosed with infectious mononucleosis, caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, and ruled out for an unknown time.
Cavendish, 31, has built his whole 2017 season around the Tour and aims to add to his 30 stage victories when the race starts on July 1 in Dusseldorf. He is currently just four stage wins behind equalling Eddy Merckx’s all-time record.
He has been lightly training at his home in Italy and underwent more tests this week, which the team hope will give them positive news that he can up his training.
“I spoke to Mark yesterday and he had a lot more energy in his voice, he sounded a lot less fatigued which is a good thing. He’s had tests done [this week] so we hope to get the results to see how he’s recovering and what his levels are looking like. We’ll know more later,” Ryder told Cycling Weekly.
“He’s in good spirits, which is a good thing. We hope to have him back for the [Criterium du] Dauphiné and Tour de France but we’ll only know that when we have his results. This is not confirmed yet.”
Watch: Tour de France 2017 – essential guide
Cavendish’s team-mate Jaco Venter was diagnosed with the same condition in January this year and returned to racing in March.
Ryder admitted this year’s Tour de France route, particularly the first week of the race, makes it all the more difficult for Cavendish.
While up to nine of the stages are predicted to suit the sprinters – more than previous recent editions of the race – during the first seven days the peloton will cross Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg before reaching France, with five of the stages more than 200-kilometres long.
“He’s training small distances and low heart rate and that’s good,” Ryder continued. “But the challenge at the Tour de France this year is the first 10 days are so long, all over 200 kilometres and super hard.
“The fact that he’s riding is fantastic; it’s just obviously the intensity and endurance that concerns all of us. We hope we can get him back.
“Every day and every week that goes by is an important day and we are hoping that the results we get now will be favourable for him to step it up [training] another level, and that would be fantastic.
“Time is not really on our side, but we do have a bit of time. Mark is incredibly experienced, he’s got a lot of mileage in his legs it won’t take too long to get that back.”
Dimension Data has endured a torrid month of injuries among their star riders, with Cavendish’s lead-out rider Mark Renshaw and Steve Cummings also both currently on the sidelines.
Cummings crashed at the Tour of the Basque Country on April 7 and fractured his collarbone, sternum and left scapula, potentially putting his Tour de France participation in doubt.
Renshaw also crashed at Scheldeprijs in Belgium on April 5 and underwent surgery after fracturing his ankle.