• Mark Cavendish (R) has overcome illness to ride the UAE Tour. (LaPresse / Ferrari - Paolone)Source: LaPresse / Ferrari - Paolone
Mark Cavendish will commence the inaugural UAE Tour from today with modest aims and an uncertainty over form as he continues a comeback from Epstein-Barr virus.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
24 Feb 2019 - 9:05 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2019 - 9:25 PM

Cavendish (Dimension Data) has won just two races in the last two years and claims that is a result of the virus, which he was diagnosed with in August and consequently sat-out the remainder of a crash-marred 2018 season.

The 33-year-old sprinter says the virus had previously been misdiagnosed. Speaking during a team presentation at the multimillion-dollar Louvre, Abu Dhabi museum last night, Cavendish was typically unabashed.

“It’s frustrating because obviously, it’s not my fault, it’s a mess-up from doctors who should have known better,” he said.

Both of Cavendish’s last two victories were in the Emirates. He won stage three of the Dubai Tour last year, and in 2017 took a scalp and the points classification at the Abu Dhabi Tour. Those races have combined this season to create the UAE Tour.

The Manxman returned to racing and commenced his 2019 campaign at the Vuelta a San Juan earlier this month, with his best result an eighth-place finish on stage one, which Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) won.

“We came here with a GC team, so we’ll try to position these guys at the bottom of the climbs, and I’ll try my best in the sprints,” Cavendish said.

The former world champion will race without the aid of Australian teammate Mark Renshaw, who is still recovering from a fractured pelvis sustained in an NSW training accident last December.

Cavendish will be especially up against it here with almost every marquee WorldTour sprinter taking to the start line, including Gaviria and teammate Alexander Kristoff, Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Sam Bennett (BORA-hansgrohe), Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).

Gaviria’s team especially is putting obvious emphasis on the seven-stage race, which opens with a team time trial at Al Hudayriat Island. The 24-year-old won two stages at San Juan but abandoned the proceeding Tour of Colombia, his home race, due to illness and as a precaution ahead of the UAE Tour.

"This is one of the most important races for us at UAE Team Emirates and for our sponsors. We came with climbers and Alexander Kristoff and me for the sprints. The TTT is not really good for us, but we’ll try to lose very little time on day one and win the sprints and GC,” Gaviria said.

The race has also attracted superstar climbers and puncheurs including Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Vincenzo Nibali and Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and others.