Battling back from injury and illness, both Mark Cavendish and Steve Cummings have been confirmed for Team Dimension Data’s Tour de France squad.
Cavendish has clocked up a staggering 30 Tour stage wins and told CyclingTips earlier this year that he believed Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 was within reach. He’s struggled this season with an ankle injury and then the Epstein-Barr virus, but was able to return to racing in the Tour of Slovenia. After netting second on the final stage there, he also competed in the British road race championships on the Isle of Man on Sunday.
Even if he is not in the same form as last year, riding this year’s Tour gives him a chance to get closer to Merckx’s number.
“As has been widely reported, it’s been a difficult few months for me on the back of the illness that set me back earlier on in the season,” he said in a team announcement on Monday. “Despite this setback and my lack of race time I’ve worked incredibly hard both to ensure I could firstly recover from the illness as well as then aiming to build my fitness up as much as possible in order to start the Tour.”
Cavendish said that the importance of the event meant that missing out is something that he and the team wanted to avoid if at all possible.
“If I am being totally honest, had this not been the Tour de France we may have collectively taken a different approach with regards to my inclusion,” he stated. “But I feel that I owe it to myself, the team, our sponsors and most importantly to the Tour itself, given its history and everything that it stands for – as well as the emotional attachment I have for it – to give it my best and to put everything I have in to trying to help the team.
“In addition, I also feel a great sense of pride to be supporting Qhubeka and our Bicycles Change Lives campaign, and am keen to raise as much awareness as possible for what is such an incredible cause at the Tour.”
Team Dimension Data noted that it had been committed to give him ‘the necessary support and time required to allow him every opportunity to make the team,’ further underlining his importance.
He will be joined by Steve Cummings, who has made a successful return from fractures to his left collarbone and scapula plus his sternum. Cummings underlined his form with victory in both the British road race and time trial championships, and looks to be in the form to chase what would be a third Tour stage win.
“Remembering his historical stage win on Mandela Day in 2015, followed up by his emphatic stage victory last year, it is most satisfying to have Cummings back at the Tour for our African Team,” said the squad in its statement.
Also confirmed on Monday are South African champion Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Bernhard Eisel, Mark Renshaw and Serge Pauwels, plus Tour debutants Jaco Venter and Scott Thwaites. Janse van Rensburg and Venter are the sole African riders on the squad.
“This team was built on a dream and to be in our third Tour de France is so special as we chase more dreams with every single rider that will represent this team and what it stands for on July 1,” said Team Principal Douglas Ryder.
“Our two debutants, Jaco and Scott, will have their eyes wide open as they experience the enormousness of the Tour de France, and what a privilege to do that with the incredible experience of the rest of the team.”
The team has said that stage wins will be the priority for the squad, as well as aiming to wear a leader’s jersey.
“The hard work that has been put in by the riders and our team partners to be ready to represent Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka in this year’s event is truly incredible,” Ryder continued. “[It] shows their commitment to the sport of cycling and the impact they can make on others.”