Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) made a tentative return to racing at the Three Days of De Panne this Tuesday. The Australian has been out of action for over a week, suffering with an illness that forced his teammate Mark Cavendish to quit before the race even began.
The harsh conditions at Milan-San Remo took their toll on many riders, with several opting to miss the first races back in Belgium. Renshaw did just that and was meant to be racing at E3 Harelbeke last Friday, but dropped out the day before. With Cavendish gone, Renshaw was the obvious choice as lead sprinter, but he isn't too sure about his chances as he has barely touched his bike since finishing San Remo over a week ago.
"Basically I've just done two days of training, but I still don't know if I'm back to 100 per cent," he told Cyclingnews before the start of De Panne. "I'm not expecting to do anything. I had the same illness [Cavendish] has after San Remo, so I spent two and a half days back in bed. Today I'll just see what happens."
The Australian's return didn't go to plan as he was caught up in a crash on the opening stage and was forced to change his shoe, after losing his cleat. However, he managed to make it back and finished within the main bunch, 19 seconds down on the leaders. His teammates fared better, with Niki Terpstra and Gert Steegmans making it into the front group. Steegmans finished better, but the in-form Terpstra is likely to be their best bet for the general classification. The Dutchman finished third overall in the 2013 edition.
Renshaw joined Omega Pharma-QuickStep this winter to be reunited with his friend Cavendish. The pair enjoyed several successful years at HTC, with Renshaw earning the title as the world's best lead-out rider. After the team split, he decided to go it alone at Rabobank, but was unable to convert the power of a lead out into his role as a main sprinter. Renshaw is happy in his new home and returning to his more successful role.
"Everything is going well. We'd like more results, but I think we've already won the most races in the bunch so we don't want to get too greedy. But I think there are still a lot of things that we can do to improve."
Despite the talent of his two lead-out men, Cavendish has had a tricky start to the year. The sprint train hasn't had the same success rate as in the past and the Manx Missile has found himself left wanting in a number of sprints. De Panne is now a missed opportunity for the two to refine the lead-out, but Renshaw believes that they are still on track for the Tour de France in July.
"That's not too much of an issue now. We still have some more racing coming up in Scheldeprijs and then we have the Tours, which will change focus a little bit. I think we've still got plenty of time," he explained. "Slowly it's starting to come together. We won't be able to say for sure until we do some of the bigger stage races with all the sprinters together. So it will be a big few weeks."
After De Panne, Renshaw is due to ride Scheldeprijs with Cavendish and the GP Pino Cerami, before taking a break from racing.