The Graduate steps up to the Giro
Mark Renshaw is another Aussie young gun quickly establishing himself as a quality rider capable of mixing it with the best of the pros after recent strong performances. This weekend the 22-year-old from Bathurst, in country New South Wales, lines up in Reggio Calabria for the Giro d'Italia. Cyclingnews' Les Clarke caught up with Renshaw on the eve of his first Grand Tour.
2005 is the year for the graduate to step up, and his ninth place finish in this year's Tour Down Under, plus a host of strong results in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the Three Days of De Panne and Tirreno-Adriatico have led to Renshaw riding as part of Francaise des Jeux's Giro d'Italia squad.
After a strong ride in South Australia in January, it became clear that Renshaw would most likely be a part of Marc Madiot's plans for an assault on the Giro d'Italia in May. Just what role the young New South Welshman would play depended on his fitness and form leading into the event. Both of these have been great, and as a result Renshaw told us "My role with the team for the Giro will be to give it 100% during the short prologue; after this I'll just try my hand at a stage finish whilst helping Baden out in the finish of most stages." This indicates that he's ready to go the distance, and with Cooke due for some big results, Renshaw's got a fair bit of responsibility resting on his shoulders.
"A top ten in the prologue and top three in a road stage would be great." - Mark Renshaw's goals for the 2005 Giro d'Italia
In terms of personal goals, he believes a "top ten in the Prologue and top three in a road stage would be great." As it's his first Grand Tour, he says "Just to get the three weeks of racing finished would be excellent!" This is similar to the approach taken by fellow Aussie pro Brad McGee - both have come from an endurance track racing background, and as such make strong prologue riders. Renshaw has developed very quickly into a rider able to mix it up over one day or a week, but he's not yet been tested over three weeks. So we asked him whether he believes he has the legs to get through this - "I'm hoping I have the base to get through and try in a few stages for a place; I'm sure it'll be hard but I believe I can finish."
There's a confidence in this response that comes through good results. In 2005, however, McGee said in January this year that he won't be riding the Giro after his eighth overall in 2004, which included several days in the pink jersey. We asked Renshaw if this had changed - "No, he's just getting ready for the Tour De France this year." Will his presence be missed? "Yeah, he will be missed but I know we have Baden [Cooke] and Matt [Wilson] riding also...there should be more than enough joking at the dinner table now!" Marc Madiot's Antipodean contingent obviously like to entertain whilst dining! Seriously, however, even with the absence of McGee Francaise des Jeux possess a strong squad with Cooke's undeniable sprinting ability and former Aussie road champ Wilson's emergence as a rider able to go the distance sure to challenge throughout the three weeks.
Renshaw was one of the first members of the NSWIS-Francaise des Jeux programme, which continues today and makes the transition to the pro ranks easier for young riders. His next step was to join accomplished Australian riders Brad McGee, Baden Cooke and Matt Wilson at Francaise des Jeux as a stagiare in 2003, riding smaller races in France during 2003 and 2004 as a means of testing his ability to adapt and handle the change from Australia to Europe.
After a back operation last October, Renshaw has been building up his strength and power in preparation for this part of the season - how has his training been lately?
"I've been racing the last few months, but have also done five or six sessions of power training for the Giro. Bringing back a bit of pain from the track by training with a few short sprint efforts as well." And as for the back? "I haven't had any pain or problems since the operation last October."
He elaborates on the serious back injury that threatened to spoil his step up to the senior ranks - "The first pain I had was from doing gym work during training for the Junior World Titles in Athens 1999. The pain was fixed after some treatment and four years later at the track World Titles in Melbourne I felt the pain come back after doing some hard training on big gears the week leading up to the event. I later crashed in the points score and then crashed the next day riding back to the hotel after qualifying for the teams pursuit first round. Both were bad crashes that didn't help the back after the orginal pain from training the week before."
And although it's fine now, could it reappear in the future? "Injuries can always come back, but they [the doctors who performed the operation in October] said it's as good as new if I treat it right!"
Renshaw rode Criterium International in March with fellow young gun Philippe Gilbert, finishing 25th on stage 1 before being a victim on the time cut on stage 2 with most of the field. Not a bad performance, and Renshaw wasn't too worried about it - "There is always one bunch sprint stage and a hard road stage the second morning, with a time trail in the afternoon; the boys had said that most of the field gets time cut the second morning stage and as usual we all did. This meant that it was 110% for the first stage and after giving it all I got caught on the fence and boxed in going nowhere - had good legs but not the good postion. A big problem...
And how is was back after it? "The back is stronger then ever and held up really well; I have some special things I must do to keep it right, and as long as I do them it should be fine."
Before then, however, he took ninth overall at the Tour Down Under, with a field including Robbie McEwen, Michael Rogers, Cadel Evans and Gilberto Simoni, all strong experienced riders looking to kickstart their season. It served this purpose for Renshaw too - "Yeah, it sure gave me a boost for the start of the season; I arrived and wasn't sure how the form would be there, and as normal it came up pretty quickly." Leading up to the event Renshaw had expressed some doubt as to his form over the week-long tour, but with this result he was able to hit the ground running after arriving back in Europe.
With strong results in De Panne and K-B-K, Renshaw and his team knew it was time for him to make the transition to riding over three weeks. He'll be joining a veritable legion of Australian riders - 12 - riding the Giro, and the list of Aussies plying their trade in Europe just keeps getting bigger. Renshaw's all for getting more of his countrymen (and women) over to join the 'Eurocrew':
"I think it's great that there are so many teams signing young Aussie riders, and it must mean people are happy with us. It also helps that we always seem to be winning a few races around the place! I can't be sure that the Euro riders are happy with us taking all the wins and places during the year, but they'll get over it soon I hope; just keep bringing more Aussies over to kick ass!"
As for a leadership role in his current team, what does Renshaw make of his chances Monsieur Madiot will promote him to team captain or the like in the future? "I would love to lead the team one day but I think for the next few years I'll be learning and trying to win a few races, then maybe step into the leadership role." And if he continues along the lines set for 2005, that could be a whole lot closer than he thinks.