After his turbulent start to the year and then the exploding pressure cooker of emotions that accompanied the previous day’s win, Mark Cavendish’s victory yesterday almost felt like a return to normal.
This was how simple things were for the Manxman in last year’s Tour: A flat stage. A sprint finish. A sure fire Cavendish victory.
As always, Cavendish was at pains to describe the win, not as his own, but a team victory, one in which he just finishes the job off.
There’s no question about it, Cavendish is one of the fastest road sprinters in the world. But his HTC team don’t half make his job easier.
Even with the loss of Adam Hansen to a broken collarbone, they are able to make a Cavendish victory so much more of a certainty.
It was because of all their hard work that Cavendish felt so bad after losing the sprint in Reims.
It was partly because of their unfaltering faith in him when he won the following day, that Cavendish was so overwhelmed.
On both yesterday’s stage and the previous stage, a lot of the credit for Cavendish’s victories has to go to Mark Renshaw, Cavendish’s final lead out man.
On Thursday’s stage into Montargis, the Australian kept Cavendish out of trouble and took him to exactly where he needed to be.
Yesterday in Gueugnon, Renshaw didn’t panic when a train of Garmin riders stretched themselves off the front of the bunch through the twists of the final kilometre.
Quick as a flash he dodged a decelerating Lampre rider and then accelerated Cavendish up to speed. Even in Reims where it had all gone so wrong for Cavendish, Renshaw’s lead out couldn’t be faulted.
“That’s my job,” said Renshaw after yesterday’s stage. “I came to Columbia last year to do that job and that’s the job I keep doing. We had a little bit of bad luck at the start of the Tour but it seems to be rolling well now.”
Renshaw added: “Mark is always extremely grateful for our efforts. As we always say: it’s a team victory. That’s not just the final lead out. We had two guys ride 220km on the front to make sure it was a sprint today. We didn’t have one other team help us all day – apart from Saxo Bank because they had the yellow jersey.”
Like Cavendish, Renshaw also has a background of racing on the track – a skill that helps in the hustle and bustle of the run-in.
As a junior he was more of a sprint event rider before converting to endurance events and riding alongside the likes of Brad McGee, Luke Roberts and Graeme Brown on the Australian team pursuit squad. Through McGee and his Sydney based feeder squad, Renshaw ended up as a professional on Française des Jeux before moving to Credit Agricole in 2006.
In both of these French teams he honed his skills as a lead out man for Tour de France green jersey winners Baden Cooke and Thor Hushovd. Since joining forces with Cavendish, he only seems to have improved.
In the final kilometre, the pair almost come as one. At last year’s Tour finale on the Champs Elysees, Renshaw’s leadout was so powerful, he managed to take second place himself.
When asked by Cycling Weekly how key a role he thought he played in Cavendish’s victories, Renshaw was interrupted by Erik Zabel, another Tour green jersey winner and now coach at HTC-Columbia.
“98%,” the German interjected. A joke maybe, but Renshaw’s contribution is difficult to overestimate.
“I play a big part,” admitted Renshaw. “And I take a lot of responsibility because if I don’t put him in the right position then it’s hard for him to win.
“It’s something I have a good feeling for, though,” he added. “A good knack for.”
See the current issue of Cycle Sport for an in-depth interview with Mark Renshaw.
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