Tour De Yorkshire: Mark Cavendish is glad to be feeling human again
Mark Cavendish is grateful to be "feeling human" again ahead of today's Tour de Yorkshire.
The Manxman is gradually finding his form after a second spell off the bike with the Epstein-Barr virus and will be looking to build fitness for the Tour de France over the next few days of racing.
Cavendish missed the second half of last season with the illness, and though the 30-time Tour stage winner has not raised his arms in victory for 14 months, he feels he is on the right track.
"I'm feeling alright, thank you," the Team Dimension Data rider said. "I'm feeling human again. I'm not feeling like I'm setting the world on fire but I'm definitely getting back to my old self."
Cavendish's confidence was boosted by third place on the third stage of the Tour of Turkey last month but he is not setting specific targets on the unpredictable Yorkshire roads this week.
Sprint finishes are possible on the opening three days in Selby, Bedale, and Scarborough, but the short history of this race shows little can be taken for granted.
"I'm quite happy the team hasn't put any pressure on me, and I'm just here to build my form," Cavendish said.
The fifth edition of the Tour de Yorkshire has seen its status rise to HC, the highest level for a stage race outside the WorldTour.
That fact was perhaps illustrated when Cavendish shared the stage at the pre-race press conference with two other riders to have worn the Tour de France's yellow jersey in four-time Tour winner Chris Froome and Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet, defending champion in Yorkshire.
Froome has picked the race over this week's Tour of Romandy in Switzerland as he continues his preparations for the Tour de France in July.
The 33-year-old will be taking to the roads for the first time in the new dark red kit of Team Ineos, the new name for Team Sky.
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It is not an identity which has gone down well in many parts of the county, and the chemical company will be targeted by a number of anti-fracking protests planned during the race.
"There are going to be tens of thousands of people out on the roads," Froome said when asked about the protests.
"I'm a lot more focused on that positive energy and the fact people will be coming out to celebrate sport."
Van Avermaet said he needed little persuasion to return to Yorkshire a year on from his victory, but the opportunity to race on the circuit which will form the finish of September's world championship road races was an added incentive.
The circuit features once on Friday's stage from Barnsley to Bedale.
"It's only one lap but sometimes it's enough to see," the Belgian said. "It would be better if it was the finishing line and we do it at full speed but one lap already gives you a better idea.
"It's not my main reason to be here but it's a good bonus."
The women's race will take place on Friday and Saturday, using identical routes to the men's race.
Otley-born Lizzie Deignan, who won here in 2017, will take part, having returned to racing last month following the birth of her daughter Orla in September.
"I'm not as good as I was in 2017 but in Yorkshire anything can happen because the Yorkshire roads are suited to aggressive racing and that's how I like to race," the Trek-Segafredo rider said.
"I'm here to be aggressive and we'll see what happens. I'm kind of in a win-win situation because whatever happens, I'll be happy as long as I've had a good go at it."