Mark Renshaw is aiming to continue his solid start to the season at Paris-Nice, but with his Blanco team built around the general classification ambitions of Robert Gesink, the Australian is aware that he will have limited support in the sprints this week.
Renshaw claimed his first victory of the campaign at the Clasica Almeria last weekend, which was also only his second since joining the then-Rabobank set-up ahead of last season. Confidence is perhaps a more important part of a sprinter's make-up than it is for any other rider, and after a couple of near-misses at the Tour Down Under in January, Renshaw admitted that he was relieved to get off the mark in Spain.
"It's important to start the season with a win," Renshaw told Cyclingnews. "I was close in Down Under so I knew I was in good form but it was nice to confirm that with the win - and now I've got a couple of good chances coming up this week."
Those two chances come early at the Race to the Sun, on the opening two road stages on Monday and Tuesday before the terrain becomes significantly more rugged at the tail end of the week. While the presence of Steven Kruijswijk, Wilco Kelderman and Gesink means that Blanco has one of the strongest teams in the race for the general classification, it also leaves Renshaw with just one designated helper in the sprint finishes, his fellow countryman David Tanner.
"We're coming here with a strong team for the general classification so that makes it quite difficult for me in the sprints as the support is limited," Renshaw said. "But hopefully David Tanner can help me out in the sprints and we can do something here."
Renshaw was speaking shortly after completing the opening prologue time trial of the race in Houilles on the western periphery of Paris. It was thought beforehand that the explosive nature of the course might even see a sprinter take the first yellow jersey but the best-placed was fast man was Elia Viviani (11th at 5 seconds), while Renshaw himself finished 8 seconds down in 38th.
"Wilco has the best time now and he's everything but a sprinter," Renshaw said of his teammate Kelderman, who led sat in the hotseat for much of the afternoon and finished the day in 4th place. "It just comes down to whoever has a good day on a course like this really."
Kelderman's fine early showing, allied to a solid display from Gesink (19th at 6 seconds), augurs well for the week ahead for Blanco. After losing Rabobank as sponsor in October, the squad must attract a replacement in order to ensure its existence beyond the end of the year, and the team has already chalked up ten wins in the new campaign.
"We've got good morale but there's also a little bit of pressure because of the sponsorship situation," Renshaw said. "Maybe a combination of those things is helping guys perform, but we've had a great start to the year."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.