HTC-Highroad's Mark Renshaw is arguably one of the fastest riders in the world. He has to be in order to ferry his teammate Mark Cavendish through the final 500 meters of a Tour de France stage, keeping him ahead of his rivals before dropping him expertly off with 200 metres to go where he can blast to the victory.
At age 28, however, the Australian is hoping he will have a few chances to be the one standing on the podium's top step, receiving the kisses of the podium girls and popping the cork on the champagne - an experience he's only had four times in his professional career. With a sprinter-friendly world championships in the upcoming season, going after the rainbow jersey is one of Renshaw's aims and he'll need some results to get there.
"Leading out Cavendish is a prestigious job for sure, but I still have ambitions. I think this year I'll have a little more of a chance to fight for some objectives myself, and get the chance to win a race or two. It's something I'd like to do because I'd like to go to the world championships in Denmark for the Australian team as a leader," Renshaw told Cyclingnews at the recent HTC camp.
"I don't know if there are too many other sprinters in Australia who are quicker or faster over that kind of finish, so obviously I need to put some results on the board to warrant my selection."
While his schedule for the 2011 season has yet to be solidified, Renshaw is looking to early season success in Australia and perhaps the Giro d'Italia to fulfill that goal.
"I'd love to start the season out on a high with the national championships and Tour Down Under. They're two important races for me on home soil. It's the only chance I get to race in Australia, so I'd love to be going well there."
The next few months will be spent mainly working for Cavendish at the Tour of Qatar, Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, but the Giro d'Italia could provide Renshaw the chance to add an individual Grand Tour stage win to his palmares, especially if Cavendish heads to the Amgen Tour of California at the same time.
"[The Giro] might be a good opportunity for me to go and get a result. I'd love to step up and take a few victories. I've seen so many of my teammates win so many times, whether it was Cav, André [Greipel], Eddie Boasson Hagen or Greg Henderson. I don't know how many stage victories or races I've helped win, but out of the four guys it has to be almost 100. It's exciting, but it's also a bit of drive for me to perform and get better."
Erik Zabel, the team's sprint coach, told Cyclingnews that it would be best for Renshaw "to be the number one lead-out man in the world, rather than the third or fourth best sprinter", but the Australian said that while he will likely spend the next two years mainly acting as Cavendish's final lead-out man, down the road he might try to find a situation where he could be the protected sprinter.
"I think in a couple years time why not. I'm getting stronger and smarter every year. I don't think I've peaked. I've always said I'd like to have ambitions for myself. I think it would be funny to sprint against him after knowing how he rides. But I still say he's the fastest guy out there, and if I were to beat him I'd have to try to use my intelligence and out-smart him."
Until then, Renshaw will be facing stronger competition in the lead-up to the Grand Tour sprints now that Garmin and Cervélo's top sprinters - Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler - have come together on a single team.
His last encounter with Tyler Farrar's lead-out train at the Tour de France led to his disqualification from the race, something Renshaw says was a very difficult time in his career.
"I never had anything like that happen to me before and having the world's media watching - it was big news in the Tour. If I look back at it now, there are a lot of things that went into that day.
"There were a host of teams that wanted to beat us. It was a tactic all the teams were using - if they can get in front of me then they can compromise Cav. It's a shame because it was the first time I let that happen, and [the disqualification] was the outcome. I shouldn't have let Julian [Dean] get over the top of me with 600m to go - that was the problem."
It's a problem that might be happening more frequently in the future, not only because of the additions to the Garmin roster. "Everyone is getting closer and closer. They're getting the better bikes, techniques and training. I've been lucky enough that I've always had the power to get myself out of trouble or not get into trouble - that's the first time Julian's ever managed to get next to me.
"My job is to keep Cav out of trouble and keeping him out of trouble is keeping him out of the way out of those guys. I was having maybe a bit of a bad day and didn't have the power to get out of there.
"At the end of the day I was just doing my job the best I could. I would change a few things if I could, but it's not going to change the way I race and the way I ride for Cav."
When asked if he thought his job would be made more difficult by the fact that he will likely be going head-to-head with the world champion Hushovd in the final 500m of stages, Renshaw, who several years ago was Hushovd's lead-out man, said, "That's OK. I'm lucky I know my job. Thor's a great rider, nothing taken away from him. He knows how I work because we've ridden together, but I know at the end of the day we still have the fastest sprinter."