One of HTC-Highroad's key riders heading into the 2011 season, Mark Renshaw is anticipating the showdown between Mark Cavendish and former teammate André Greipel during next month's Santos Tour Down Under.
The Australian sprinter says that HTC-Highroad will be taking a strong team to the opening round of the ProTour and the pressure will be on to perform early in the season.
"There's more and more pressure each year at the Tour Down Under - I'm not sure if we want it but that's how it's going. There'll be pressure on us to do well - it's the showdown between André and Cav," Renshaw told Cyclingnews.
"I think the team will come out swinging; the vibe I feel in the team at the moment is that we really want to do well at the Tour Down Under. We've got a really strong team for the race - if you look at the names on paper, there's plenty of horsepower... and Cav is going well - he's always going well."
In previous editions of the race the team was riding for two-time overall Tour Down Under champion Greipel; in 2011 the big German will be the star of Omega Pharma-Lotto's squad, having also taken several HTC-Columbia teammates with him to the Belgian outfit.
But Renshaw believes that HTC-Highroad won't miss Greipel, possessing more than one weapon to challenge for overall honours.
"In previous years Andre's had everyone riding for him [and he has won the overall twice] - we've had such a strong team of sprinters with plenty of depth to help him achieve that," said Renshaw.
"The objective is to try and get a win first up then work out the GC plan depending on what's happening," he explained. "Maybe Cav won't be good for GC but we've got other options for a top five performance, which is realistic for us.
"We've also got a backup plan in Hayden Roulston or Matt Goss - they can climb better than myself or Cav. It's a good team and we've got options for the overall and stages."
While Greipel will go into the event a favourite to become the first rider to take three titles in Australia's premier stage race, the field of sprinters heading Down Under is impressive, as Renshaw noted.
"There's a long list of guys [to contend with] including [Tyler] Farrar, [Gerald] Ciolek and [Francesco] Cicchi - he's always good for s atage win early on - althought I'm not sure how well Farrar is going," he said.
Personally, Renshaw's 2011 will be shaped towards a big goal for the 28-year-old - a spot on Australia's team at the UCI Road World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"For me a big goal this season is to ride the Worlds for Australia. To do that I need to get some runs on the board although that's hard when I'm riding for Cav," he explained. "The team is going to give me some opportunities to do that and I want to do a few races for myself. My program looks good and should enable me to do that.
"We raced on the course in Copenhagen earlier this year and the sprint is hard, not fast, which suits me. It needs more prolonged power rather than a fast burst at the finish."
The former track rider says he enjoyed the recent HTC-Highroad training camp and took away a lot from the pre-season get together. "I had a really good camp - the most productive one in quite a while. We had a couple of big changes, such as changing from Scott to Specialized bikes and some other technical changes," Renshaw explained.
In the immediate future Renshaw will concentrate on another crack at the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic overall title, which he took in 2008. He'll be up against a classy field that includes the likes of Robbie McEwen, Chris Sutton and Allan Davis but he's confident in the O2 team gathered around him will be up to the challenge.
"We've pulled together a good team for the Bay Crits - there's Dean Windsor, David Kemp and Tom Palmer," said Renshaw. "It's a classy team with GC ambitions and it'll be all about consistency over the four days. The field for the event just keeps getting better every year."
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