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Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) hugs Mark Renshaw after the finish.
Australian talks about Belkin, Sky negotiations and the future
The Australian, often labelled at the ‘best leadout man in cycling’, has spent the last two years at Belkin (formerly Rabobank) but 2014 will see him join Cavendish at Omega Pharma-QuickStep, where the pair will be hoping to rekindle a working relationship that yielded over a dozen stage wins and the green jersey at the Tour de France.
“I’m excited to be going back to the role of leading out, of working with Cavendish again and also improving the train on Omega Pharma Quickstep,” Renshaw told Cyclingnews from his Bathurst residence in New South Wales.
“I spent a little bit of time debating what to do and what avenue to take. I think ultimately I‘m better at leading out than I am at sprinting for myself and deep down I understood that.”
At the end of the 2011 season Renshaw decided to expand on the responsibilities he held HTC and attempt to forge a career as an out-and-out sprinter.
His 2012 results were mixed, with a volley of early season top ten placings until his first win of the year at the Tour of Turkey. It proved to be a highlight rather than a trend, with Renshaw having to wait until the following season before he could stand on the top step of the podium again.
There were plenty of mitigation circumstances, the main one being that his skills as a leadout man often meant that despite his thirst for leadership he was often asked to revert to type and provide teammate Theo Bos with the perfect protection and line. However, Renshaw has no regrets over his decision to leave the relative safety that came with being Cavendish’s last man.
“I just didn’t want to end my career without having a go and saying that I still think I can win big races but I’m just more suited to a long powerful sprint than a short explosive sprint,” he said.
“There have been a lot of races over the last few years where I’ve done some nice, long sprints but there was someone quicker than me. Someone like Demare beat me two or three times, and he knew I was going to go early and in the end he’d clean me up a few times. With a lit bit of luck I could have won more races but ultimately that’s why the decision came to going back to leading out.”
“I’ve no regrets at all. I had to do it,” he added.
“Otherwise I would have stayed with Cavendish, gone to Sky and still be there. You never know how it pans out but I don’t have any regrets at trying my hand. A little bit of bad luck at certain moments but my fitness level has been better than it was at HTC. Sometimes I missed just having a couple of guys to help in the finals or maybe a couple of guys who had confidence in me. I could have maybe achieved a bit more.”
At times Renshaw did appear isolated. At other times he was asked to devote his skills to Bos.
“I don’t think I got my best out of myself. I prepared myself well and they spread the leadership role at the team between a few guys on the team. Sometimes we didn’t go in with a sole objective and that probably was reflected in the results but they gave me a lot of chances to win races but in saying that, with a Dutch team they preferred a Dutch ride like Theo. So in the first year there was definitely a lot of times where I had to work for him and that’s what the team wanted. It wasn’t really what I went to the team to do.”
Team Sky falls through
Before Renshaw signed for Rabobank at the end of 2011, Cavendish had tried to tempt him to Sky. Bob Stapleton had failed to land a major sponsor for his High Road team and the squad were beginning to split up despite huge levels of success. Renshaw was a rider in demand, with Cavendish keen on brining him to Sky.
However it was now or never for Renshaw’s ambitions and with Rabobank offering more than Sky ever could in terms of opportunities and with Renshaw feeling that Sky’s approach was lukewarm, he opted for the Dutch outfit.
“It was either Sky or Rabobank. They were the two options so it was a really big decision, to leave Cav and go out on my own. It was a massive decision. Cav really wanted me to go with him. It was his coming home to a British team and he really wanted me there. I don’t think Sky felt the same as Cav, and I got pretty mixed feelings. Cav really wanted me there. He was desperate but the team, I think, wanted to go in a different direction and that helped me decide. Perhaps they were looking for someone British t lead him out, I don’t know, but they already had a good team and maybe they thought they already had someone there that could do my job.
"The main reason I went to Rabobank was because I wanted to have my chance at wining more races and if I stayed with Cav I would have been with him my whole career. Back then it was a case of now or never.”
Back to what you know
Two years down the line and Renshaw and Cavendish have been reunited. While Renshaw fought his corner in Holland, Cavendish traded teams, leaving Sky after just one season when it became clear that the marriage to Sky could not work while yellow jersey domination was a possibility. This season Cavendish enjoyed a haul of seven grand tour stage wins, while Renshaw missed out on riding a three week stage race altogether.
“It’s going to be a new experience for me. It’s not HTC, it’s not Dutch and it’s certainly not going to be like Credit Agricole or FDJ. Also, it’s a job. I’d like to say it’s a good relationship and that we’re all here to give each other hugs but at the end of the day I’m going there to do a job and I think I’ll be good at it. For sure though, we’ll have a good relationship if we’re winning.”
The pair first hooked up at HTC in 2009. At a December training camp in Mallorca in 2008, Renshaw, still in his Credit Agricole kit due to contractual reasons, was joining an already successful team, with Cavendish having won four stages in his second Tour earlier that season. The rest was history with the Renshaw-Cavendish partnership – not forgetting the other HTC riders in the frame – helping the Manxman towards further success.
At Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Cavendish has carried on his passion for winning. Two wins in the Tour de France may be his lowest haul since 2007 but five wins in the Giro and a total of 21 wins in a calendar year are nothing to be sniffed at. However Renshaw admits that the Belgian team have missed something from their leadout. At times during the early season the team looked strong but fragmented towards the end of certain races. It left Cavendish exposed at times and although his nature talent can dig him out of holes and situations most of his rivals would struggle with, it can not work in every instance.
“I think they’re just missing someone to take control and take leadership of the train. They have some really strong riders but it’s just a case of pulling the train together. They have great leaders for the GC and the Classics and Steegmans has done a great job this season but I think they need someone else, and hopefully I can come in alongside Geert, Petacchi and all the guys who are there. I don’t want to come in and start barking orders, and I have to earn their respect but hopefully we can do that at the training camp,” said Renshaw.
“We’ll have the same programme for around 90 per cent of season, bar the Tour Down Under as I’m pretty sure he won’t be coming for that. Apart from that we’ll mirror each other and my role will be to look after him and organise the train within those races. I’m not going to come in bark orders at experienced guys, someone like Steegmans has been a pro for as long as me but I think I can offer something too.”
Green jersey ambitions
Renshaw was part of the HTC team that helped Cavendish claim his first and only green jersey at the Tour de France in 2011. A change in the points format and the emergence of Peter Sagan as a serious threat has seen the British rider beaten in the last two seasons but Renshaw believes that Cavendish can reclaim the jersey for a second time.
“I honestly think he can win the green jersey again. There are a lot more top sprinters now with Kittel, Greipel and young guys like Demare but I don’t see any reason why Cavendish can’t win green. I still think he’s the quickest. His size, his ability to accelerate when everyone is already on the limit means he’s still got the title as the fastest. We saw at the Tour that there are some really strong guys there as well.”
“He’s definitely become stronger. Those years on HTC he was strong and he’s not lost the ability to hurt himself. On a bike he can hurt himself and suffer more than anyone else that I know. I think he’s also matured a lot in the last couple of years and he copes with the stress well too. He’s a talked about rider in the press and in the bunch too but he’s made a lot of good choices. I’ve a lot of respect for him.”