Cavendish returns with Tour start hanging in balance

The British sprinter was sidelined for months with a bout of mononucleosis, but he returned to action Thursday in Slovenia.

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) is back in the saddle this week for the first time since March, with a possible start in next month’s Tour de France hanging in the balance.

The sprint superstar hasn’t raced since coming down with glandular fever this spring. He’ll race the four-day Tour of Slovenia, running Thursday through Sunday, in a bid to chase form with the Tour de France less than three weeks away.

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“Coming back from illness, I’m as fit as I can be after four weeks of training,” Cavendish said on the team’s website. “It has been really difficult because I have had to monitor what I have been doing very closely. It’s not like you wake up one morning and you’re feeling better, you have to take it step by step. Even this week in the race, I’ll be monitoring the workload.”

The 32-year-old last raced Milano-Sanremo in March, and the team later confirmed Cavendish was diagnosed with fatigue-inducing mononucleosis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus in mid-April.

That news threw a Tour de France start into doubt for Cavendish, who has won 30 stages at the Tour. After taking a long rest, Cavendish returned to training about a month ago. The Epstein-Barr virus can take months to clear out of the system, and doctors were careful not to push him too hard in training at the risk of suffering a setback in his recovery.

Team officials, however, still have their fingers crossed that Cavendish will be able to start the Tour on July 1 in Düsseldorf. The four-day Slovenian tour, with three stages ideal for sprinters, will be an important test for Cavendish. He was quick to point out, however, that he is not expecting to win at his first race in nearly three months.

“As a team we have come here to win, but the team is definitely not built around me,” he said. “Personally, I just want to make sure I’m part of the victory in whichever way I can be.”

Cavendish is hopeful to finish the Slovenian tour, and might race in the British national championships on home roads on the Isle of Man on June 25.

Last year was a banner season for Cavendish, who won four Tour stages and wore the yellow jersey for the first time of his career before winning a silver medal in the omnium at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He ended his season with a silver medal behind Peter Sagan in the worlds road race.

His lone victory this year was the opening stage at February’s Abu Dhabi Tour.