Renshaw, Cavendish: getting the band back together
Was this Mark Cavendish's last Milan-San Remo? (Image: Omega-Pharma Quick-Step).
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That Mark Renshaw will once again be teaming up with his old comrade Mark Cavendish is something to celebrate.
Although the Aussie fast man will be playing second fiddle to his sprint-king buddy, it is far from being a backward step for the rider who, in terms of providing a lead out, was once considered to be the best in the land.
Renshaw’s time with Cavendish at the HTC teams provided us with some of the most scintillating moments the sport of professional cycling has ever known, and although it is often dangerous to try and recreate the past, both riders should benefit from the reunion.
Indeed, our best memories of Renshaw come from his time with Cavendish.
Who can forget him hitting those final corners on the Champs Elysees at the conclusion of the 2009 Tour de France?
His speed that day even frightened Cavendish who, while glued to Renshaw’s back wheel, felt sure that they would smash into the barriers as they negotiated that final bend.
Cavendish might have won, but it was all Renshaw’s doing. They finished first and second with daylight third.
Renshaw’s speed and agility at the front end of a sprint coupled with his ability to find the gaps and safely guide his leader through the maelstrom of swerving bikes and disintegrating lead-out trains helped add considerably to Cavendish’s win count.
It was a role that Renshaw was comfortable with and by all accounts his rapport with the often tetchy Cavendish was relaxed and matey.
In short, the two got along, and as is often the case when the wins keep coming, the confidence of all involved grew to a point where there were no doubts about the capabilities of the main players.
This was further enhanced when Renshaw smoothly stepped up to take on team leadership after an out of sorts Cavendish began to struggle midway through the 2011 Tour of Qatar.
Success breeds success they say, and Renshaw went on to claim a stage of the windy event and take home the general classification.
Matt Goss, who was also on the team, almost did the same a week later at the Tour of Oman. He claimed a stage and went on to wear the leader’s jersey until the race turned lumpy.
They were golden days for HTC.
But nothing stays the same.
On the back of his successful 2011 season Renshaw struck out on his own and became the sprinter for Dutch team Rabobank.
Whether it was the weight of expectation, self inflicted pressure or the simple fact that he wasn’t as fast or as good as everyone thought he might be, Renshaw struggled to make his mark as the number one man.
A string of top five placings looked promising early, but apart from a stage win at the 2012 Tour of Turkey (ironically over Matt Goss now riding for Orica-GreenEDGE) and a first at the Classica de Almeria earlier this season, it has been slim pickings for the boy from New South Wales.
Sprinters who don’t win sprints cannot be considered for the biggest races, or if they are, receive only nominal support.
Whether or not the Rabobank/Belkin team lost confidence in its spearhead is not for us to say, but he was hardly sighted at the bigger events this year and his results sheet remained underwhelming.
Injured played its part, sure, but the writing was already well and truly on the wall.
Which is why his reconnection with Cavendish is the best career move he could have made.
Not only does it put him back into the action at the front end of the peloton where his skill and aggression can be put to good use, it also relieves him of that added pressure of having to win.
That is not a slight on Renshaw’s ability to handle pressure.
Anyone who can handle themselves in a milling bunch of lunatic riders tracking at 70 kilometres an hour entering the home straight knows what pressure is, and Renshaw handles it better than most.
More it is an indication of the difficulty in becoming a top notch sprinter.
Speed, timing, team support and a fair amount of luck are needed and if just one aspect is lacking slightly, then it can be the difference between winning and finishing outside of the podium.
Unfortunately for Renshaw the winning formula failed to coalesce. He gave it his best shot but the results were not forthcoming.
But that is not disaster. He is too good a rider to just fall by the wayside. His value and his commitment have never been in doubt and he will relish the challenge to re-establish himself as one of the world’s best lead out men.
And we will be the beneficiaries. What more glorious sight exists in pro-cycling than a well oiled lead out train delivering its champion sprinter to victory?
Renshaw will remind us of just how good he is in that situation, don’t you worry about that.
And who better to do it with than his old mate Mark Cavendish!