PARIS, Feb 4, 2012 (AFP) – Mark Renshaw’s reputation as the best lead-out man in cycling has been put firmly behind him as he prepares to step out of the shadow of British sprint king Mark Cavendish.
At the Tour of Qatar beginning on Sunday, Renshaw, the defending champion, may get a first chance to test his legs against the man whose global reputation he has helped build over three success-laden years. News this morning broke that Cavendish was ill and may not be able to start the race.
While Cavendish has surpassed all sprinters at the Tour de France by amassing 20 stage wins in only five years, Renshaw was a crucial cog in the machine that many believe took sprinting to new levels.Basking in the glory of cycling’s fastest man, however, has a shelf-life.
When HTC-Highroad broke up in December, Cavendish, as expected, signed for Team Sky. Renshaw opted to sign for Dutch outfit Rabobank, where he has the chance to start notching up victories for himself.
For Rabobank manager Erik Breukink, however, the pressure is definitely not on. “You always have to give riders some time because he’s changed from lead-out man to a sprinter,” the Dutchman told AFP at the recent Tour Down
Under in Adelaide.
Despite often providing an unrivaled back wheel for Cavendish to follow on his road to success, Renshaw has since had to re-jig his entire training program.
And with no specialized sprint ‘train’ at Rabobank, he is counting on his bike-handling skills to make up the shortfall. “I want to win races, and the goal is to go to the Tour de France and try to win a stage there,” Renshaw told AFP. “We’re not going to have a team like Cav or the other sprinters, but I think I’m smart enough to be able to freestyle off their trains and try and get a result.”
To his credit, Cavendish always shares the plaudits with the men who help set up each of his big wins, and Renshaw has often been given special mention.
Even when the going got tough in the mountains, Renshaw was there to share with Cavendish some of the most difficult days of their careers.
Days after Renshaw was thrown off the 2010 Tour de France for violent conduct, as he tried to set up Cavendish for yet another sprint win, the Manxman was unequivocal about his team-mate’s input.”Mark has made my life easy. He and the whole team deliver me to the last 200 meters,” said Cavendish. “I’ve missed Mark, also in the Pyrenees when I didn’t have someone who was worse off than me to look at.”
Stages in the Tour of Qatar often finish in bunch or group sprints, setting the scene for a series of potential duels between the former team-mates, should Cavendish be well enough to race.
But despite claiming to know Cavendish inside-out, Renshaw admits he will not be taking beating the current world champion for granted.
“For sure, there’s a lot of things I can take (from his time with Cavendish) but I’m not going to tell anyone what they are!” said the Australian, who even believes Cavendish’s success rate could increase this season. “I’ve raced with (former HTC team-mates) Matt Goss, Greg Henderson and Andre Greipel and I think they’re all beatable. “But I think this year he (Cavendish) will be as successful. With the world champion’s jersey, he’s probably found new motivation, and he’s expecting a child. Things couldn’t be better for him.”
He added: “Now, things are different for me and the mental side of things plays a bigger role. And the training required to be the sprinter is harder.
“But it’s a numbers game, and sooner or later my number will come up.”