Former MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner has dismissed speculation that his career is under threat from the mystery illness that has forced him to take a break from the sport and says he is determined to return in time for the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Ducati is about to embark on its second race weekend without Stoner, following the 23-year-old's self-imposed three-race break to try and shake the post-viral fatigue doctors say has stricken him down this season.
The sabbatical has prompted speculation over the 18-time grand prix winner's long-term future, but Stoner has strongly refuted such suggestions.
"I haven't lost my love for bikes and racing," he told Motosprint this week. "And neither for Ducati. My plan is to return to racing as soon as I get my energy back. The objective is still to race in Portugal."
Stoner says he has no plans to walk away from the sport: "I would like to carry on racing for a few more years, because racing a bike is what I hope to be doing as soon as possible. I just need to recover and to get back to a level of form that allows me to do that well."
He admits, however, that he felt compelled to stop now and recover, and admitted that he had been frustrated by his condition: "At one point I started having a bad feeling: I felt vulnerable, and I found myself in the position of someone doing something he hates. It's like finding yourself doing a job you can't stand, but that you have to do anyway.
"It was a really bad feeling for me, to realize that while I was riding my bike, while I was racing and fighting against my rivals, I was really pushing to the maximum, I was giving it my all, but there was nothing I could do to avoid those results I don't like. They are not up to my usual level of performance.
"This [break] was the only possibility I could see. I convinced myself that I had to detach myself, for a short time but completely, from what I was doing: I had to disconnect from racing. The most frustrating thing is being unable to ride my bike perfectly. It's bad for me, for the team, for Ducati. This situation is difficult for everyone. I can shift and manage injuries, but I can't manage something I don't know."
Stoner believes that his condition has been provoked by pushing himself beyond his physical limits this season. "I'm certainly not the first athlete to do that," he said. "I have got to the point that I need rest, because the fatigue has become too much to recover as quickly as it should.
"I can't come to terms with the fact that I can't ride to the best of my abilities. The Desmosedici is capable of winning, but I'm not. At least not at the moment. That's why I've taken this break: I want to rest, I want to find again the energy to go back doing what I used to do before with this bike."
Stoner's father and manager, Colin, says that his son's break from the sport is already beginning to show signs of having worked.
"It's been positive, and in fact there are already positive signs, recovery signs, just for having rested a bit and for having completely reviewed the nutrition and preparation programs," he said. "He is following a program designed to allow him to rest completely without thinking of the races. On top of that he is on a different diet and he takes some medicines."
"Casey's objective is to return in Estoril. The only thing that could change this programme would be a worsening of his physical conditions, but that would be completely unexpected.
"If everything goes well, Casey will be back for the final races and then he will rest at the end of the season, since after the Valencia test he will have the possibility of a rather long winter break, before coming back in good form in 2010."