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Competing priorities leave Cavendish’s 2016 plans uncertain

DOHA, Qatar (VN) — After sealing an overall win at Tour of Qatar Friday, Mark Cavendish says that he is unsure where he will ride next, on the track or on the road. A decision to ride the track world championships in March would be a step toward the Olympics. Otherwise, he could call off his gold medal plans.

Dimension Data’s super sprinter placed only millimeters behind stage winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) in stage 5 to conclude the Tour of Qatar in Doha. Doing so, he kept his race leader’s golden jersey. With the stage win on day one Monday and today’s overall, he now counts two wins in 2016.

Uncertainty, however, surrounds his track plans. He has been racing the omnium event on the track in an effort to qualify for Great Britain’s 2016 Olympic team. That selection could hinge on the track worlds in London, where he would need to prove up to the task after placing fourth at the last World Cup round in Hong Kong.

The Manxman said that he would decide during the week if he would race worlds, but he has not made the call yet. “I haven’t thought about the track worlds really. I’ve just been trying to get through this nine-day block with the Dubai Tour and here,” Cavendish told press off the winner’s podium, overlooking Doha’s blustery Corniche.

“So of course, I know I’m in contention for selection there. But when you’re racing here in the winds like this, you can’t really have the track in the back of your mind, you have to go full gas. But I’m happy with what I’ve got out of these races in Dubai and Qatar, and obviously made up to have the win more than anything.”

Cavendish admitted that he first must manage his road career because that is what he is being paid to do, but that he wants to have a chance at giving Great Britain another track gold medal. He tried in the 2008 Beijing Games, but Madison partner Bradley Wiggins was not up to speed after winning in other events. In 2012, in London, he tried in the road race, but tactics worked against him. Juggling both the road and track, though, is a bit “tricky” and he could be forced to call off his dream.

“I think it’s doable,” he said at the start of the week. “I might find out in a few weeks that it’s not, I might find out the middle of this week that it’s not doable, and things will have to change.”

A week has gone by, and Cavendish looks to be ready for the road season after beating Kristoff in stage 1 and defending Dimension Data’s lead when Edvald Boasson Hagen suffered a double puncture Thursday. His track coach Heiko Salzwedel will have to decide just how he is progressing for the omnium, a multi-discipline event over two days.

If they call off worlds, Cavendish might scrap all plans to race the Olympics. Now, however, it is unclear. What is clear is that South Africa’s Dimension Data, in its first season as a WorldTour team, depends on him in the road races. Cavendish’s program includes Milano-Sanremo on March 19, Gent-Wevelgem on March 27, Scheldeprijs on April 6, and, of course, the Tour de France in July, where already counts 26 stage wins.

Right now, he sees two options for his next race: “If I do the worlds, I do the worlds. If I don’t, it’s probably Tirreno-Adriatico.”