Renshaw and Cavendish were the final cogs in the famous HTC-Highroad lead-out train, perhaps the slickest winning machine the sport has seen, but the extent and variety of talent on the Etixx roster means the duo can’t enjoy the same luxury now. The Belgian squad boasts the likes of world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, three-time world time trial champion Tony Martin, along with Classics men Tom Boonen and Zdenek Stybar, not to mention a genuine Grand Tour contender in Rigoberto Urán.
“In this team it’s really hard,” Renshaw said on Saturday ahead of the sprint-oriented Tour of Turkey. “We have so many big riders and I don’t think we’ll ever pull them together like we did in HTC. It will always be this group of guys and that group of guys all targeting their individual things.
“The team is getting better each year, and with [Fabio] Sabatini coming in we have more of a core group around Cav. But we can’t expect that things will be 100% for Cav because the team wants the yellow jersey, the white jersey… It definitely makes life more complicated.”
While Cavendish and Renshaw are unable to fully recreate the days of old, some of their competitors are looking to do just that, notably the Manxman’s new arch-rival, Marcel Kittel. The German’s set-up at Giant-Alpecin is one Renshaw looks at with envy.
“Giant can dedicate five or six riders purely to Kittel. Our guys, especially Tony [Martin] and Kwiatkowski who are really loyal teammates to Cav, will give 100% but if it’s the day before a time trial you know Tony’s going to swing off a little bit early,” Renshaw said.
“Maybe it’s frustrating for Cav and myself, not having six guys dedicated to us. That would be nice but it only happens at races like the Tour of Turkey – not the Tour de France.”
Both Cavendish and Renshaw will have to start thinking about the future soon, as their contracts with Etixx expire at the end of the year. Theirs is a relationship that blossomed at HTC from 2009 to 2011 but their paths diverged in 2012 when the Briton went to Team Sky, and the Australian tried for some wins of his own at Rabobank, which became Blanco and later Belkin.
They came back together at QuickStep in 2014 and while it is still uncertain where they’ll be riding next term, Renshaw is keen for it to be alongside one another. “At this stage in my career, he’s got great confidence in me, it’s a role I do well and I’d like to stay with him,” said the 32-year-old. “He wants to keep me, I’d like to stay, now it’s all between the managers.
“I room with him and race with him most of the year, so I probably spend the most time with him of anyone in the team.
“He’s definitely a winner – he thrives off that. He expects everything to be perfect, as you do in any team sport where there’s glory and victory on the line. Big riders like that lift teams.”
Taking on Kittel
Right now the duo has its sights set on the Tour of Turkey, where Cavendish won four stages last year. It is part of a season once again built around the Tour de France, a season that has been successful so far but not without its hiccups.
Despite Cavendish’s six wins, including two stages in the Tour of Dubai and one-day triumphs at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and the Clásica de Almería, he and Renshaw were set back by sickness during a trip to South Africa in March. Once back in Europe, a chain issue hindered the Manxman in a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and again at Milan-San Remo.
“We had a really good start to the year, he [Cavendish] just got better and better until the trip down to South Africa and that’s where it all kind of fell apart,” says Renshaw. “That knocked us back five pegs out of ten. It really was starting from the bottom again in Tirreno.
“This year he looks to me a lot more focused. He’s always a good bike rider all year round but this year he has that little bit added extra focus to win big races. He’s already won a lot and this next block of racing with Turkey, California and of course finishing with the Tour de France, I think we’ll see him in better shape than last year.”
The danger man is, of course, Marcel Kittel who won in Harrogate on the opening day of last year’s Tour – the stage Cavendish had coveted so badly. The German has also stolen his Champs-Élysées limelight, triumphing on the Tour’s final day in successive years now, bringing an end to Cavendish’s four-year reign of dominance.
Despite talk of a changing of the guard, Renshaw believes his man still holds the edge. “I think if Cav was on Kittel’s wheel, he would beat him nine times out of ten. If Cav misses the jump and has to come from two wheels behind, then I think that is a lot of ground he will have to shut down to beat him. But 99% of the time it’s positioning and who goes first out of the two.
“We haven’t seen him [Kittel] this year. He has been MIA a lot of the year so I don’t even know when we will race him next.”
Cavendish proved what he could do with a dedicated sprint train by winning stage 1 of the Tour of Turkey, beating Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) by half a wheel.