LONDON (Reuters) - Wild horses would not keep Mark Cavendish off his bike for the start of the Tour of Britain on Sunday, but the battle-scarred former world champion admits he is hardly in the best shape.
Cavendish needed surgery on his shoulder after a heavy crash ended his Tour de France hopes on the first stage in Harrogate in July and his slow recovery has eaten into the season.
The winner of 25 Tour de France stages was deemed not fit enough to ride in the Vuelta by his Omega Pharma Quickstep team but he will be in the saddle in Liverpool for the start of his home race.
Arch sprint rival Marcel Kittel is also entered, but Cavendish said taking on the German powerhouse with precious little preparation might be asking too much.
"You never say never and I will be flat out but realistically you have to say that I am not in my best condition after the last few months I've had," Cavendish, known as the Manx Missile, told the Tour of Britain website.
"I'm racing this week because this is my national Tour, Britain's big race, and I always want to support it when I can."
"I'm just going to enjoy myself and see what the week brings. I'm fresh enough but I just haven't got the really high quality racing miles in my legs this season," he added.
"That's the plain truth. After opting to miss the Giro, crashing out of the Tour on day one and not recovering sufficiently for the Vuelta I have ridden just one day on the Grand Tours this season, you just can't ever replicate that racing and the fitness it give you."
Cavendish has enjoyed a charmed life since becoming a professional, staying clear of serious injuries despite so often going elbow to elbow in the hurly burly of sprint finishes on the sport's big Tours.
His luck ran out in Harrogate, however, when he slammed into the tarmac as he battled for an emotional stage victory in the home town of his mother.
"I've had plenty (of accidents) myself and have almost always bounced straight back up but not in Harrogate I didn't," he said.
"I've been pretty lucky but this time it was my turn to suffer.
"Some people say I was still lucky, I could have broken something. If only! I would love it to only have been a broken collar bone or something.
"Broken bones are pretty straight forward they heal quickly and you can pin them with metal and stuff. This was a shoulder separation and I ripped three of the connecting ligaments.
"The only thing that will really heal that is time and rehab. I'm beginning to appreciate it's actually been a bit miraculous getting back to any form of racing so quickly."
The success of the likes of Cavendish and consecutive Tour de France winners Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have helped accelerate a huge resurgence in cycling in Britain and the Tour of Britain is now recognised as a prestigious title.
"It's a really strong field at the Tour of Britain this year, the best ever, but you would expect that now the race has earned HC status and it can invite up to 50 percent of World Tour teams," Cavendish, who won three stages last year, said.
"I've raced a good number of the Tours over the years and never cease to be amazed how it has grown," he said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond