Former world champion Mark Cavendish will spearhead South African team Dimension Data at the Tour de France starting later this week, in his first major race since returning from a three-month layoff due to illness.
The British sprinter, sidelined since March while recovering from glandular fever, returned to competition at the Tour of Slovenia last week, where he took second place on the fourth and final stage.
He was included in a nine-member squad announced by the World Tour outfit on Monday for the three-week Grand Tour contest.
“It’s been a difficult few months for me on the back of the illness that set me back earlier in the season,” said Cavendish, a 30-time individual stage winner at the prestigious race.
“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 would be joined in the Dimension Data team by countryman Steve Cummings, the British road race and time trial champion, who won stages at the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Tour de France.
The squad also featured five other foreign riders – Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, Austrian Bernhard Eisel, Belgian Serge Pauwels, Australian Mark Renshaw and Scott Thwaites of Great Britain.
While the Di-Data squad had boasted five African riders when they made their Tour debut as a Pro-Continental outfit in 2015, this year’s team included only two representatives from the continent, with SA champion Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and debutant Jaco Venter named in the line-up.
“With a race strategy that served us well in both 2015 and 2016, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka will once again target specific stages with individual riders during the 2017 edition of the race,” the team said in a statement.
“Riding from the front, searching for breakaways and looking to wear a leaders jersey will also bring further awareness to our #BicyclesChangeLives campaign.”
The 104th edition of the Tour de France, a 3 540km race between Dusseldorf and the Champs-Elysees in Paris, starts on Saturday.