Mark Renshaw's defence of the Tour of Qatar was dealt a blow during Sunday's opening stage when key lead-out man, Coen Vermeltfoort crashed heavily near the halfway mark and was forced to abandon the race.
Vermeltfoort was taken to hospital suffering a large open wound to his left elbow, along with several lacerations however the 23-year-old was cleared of any fractures. It's the second year in a row where the Dutchman has had a rough start to the season, following his double wrist fracture at the Delta Tour Zeeland in 2011.
Given the right combination for Renshaw's lead-out is still being sorted out, a Rabobank team meeting prior to the 142.5 kilometre had placed Vermeltfoort, 2008 winner of Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, as the Australian's last man in the run in to the finish. The role instead fell to Graeme Brown who tried valiantly to pull his compatriot through over the final five kilometres, however Renshaw was only able to manage sixth for the stage behind winner, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma – QuickStep). The result places Renshaw in eighth overall, nine seconds down on the Belgian three-time winner of the Qatari event.
Rabobank directeur sportif Erik Dekker, said that despite the result, all was not lost for Renshaw who is still in the process of adjustment in his role from lead-out man to number one sprinter with his new team.
"We will analyse the video extensively tonight", said Dekker to Rabosport.nl. "Here we must learn from this. The sixth place from Mark today is no disgrace. This week is an initial learning process."
It is hoped that despite the rocky start, Vermeltfoort will recover to provide solid support for Renshaw in the sprints.
"In Saturday's briefing, Coen was nominated by several other riders as someone with a prominent role in the train," Dekker confirmed. "I am also sure that he can do well. It is unfortunate that it all went wrong immediately. Especially for Coen himself, because he had lousy year after 2011 for what he was really looking forward to here."
Vermeltfoort is one of six riders due to race next at the Tour of Oman for the Dutch outfit. Dekker said a decision will be made "in the coming days" as to his inclusion in the team.