Australian sprinter Mark Renshaw has been banging on the door of a strong sprint results thus far in the Tour de France. He’s stepped up following the stage one crash of team leader Mark Cavendish, replacing the injured Briton as the protected rider and enjoying the support of the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team.
While he’s regarded as one of the best leadout riders rather than amongst the top sprint winners, he is both ambitious and hopeful that he can pull off a career-best result in Paris on Sunday.
“I dream about the Champs Elysees,” he told CyclingTips, looking ahead to the final stage of the race. “It is probably going to be the one and only time that I ever get the chance to do it for myself.
“If I could win there it would be magical. Everything would be forgotten in the Tour, except for that stage.”
Renshaw placed a fine fourth on stage 19, finishing just behind John Degenkolb (Giant Shimano) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). They were seven seconds behind the day’s winner Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin Sharp), who held off the hard-chasing bunch into Bergerac.
The chase was disrupted by a big crash inside the final three kilometres; while this narrowed down the list of those in contention and theoretically helped Renshaw take fourth, he showed earlier in the race that he is in good shape.
“Personally I’m pretty happy with what I have done so far in the Tour. I’m happy the team have got behind me in these sprint stages,” he said prior to the stage 19 result.
“A third, a fourth, a fifth, a seventh…I’m competitive, but missing that extra last 50 metres acceleration that these pure sprinters who have focussed on this have.”
Nevertheless, he hopes that things work out perfectly for him in Paris. He has prior experience of excelling there; despite leading out team-mate Mark Cavendish in 2009, he had enough oomph left to take second on the stage.
That gave him a taste for sprinting on the Champs Elysees and now, five years later and with Cavendish out of the race, he wants to seize the opportunity.
Campaigning without Cavendish:
Renshaw is clear on his role within the team; using his own finishing speed to set up Cavendish for wins. It’s a role that suits him well, and one he is good at. However the expected plan in this year’s turn was completely rewritten after Cavendish crashed out on day one.
“Things were turned on their head after the first stage,” he said, referring to the Harrogate clash with Simon Gerrans, a fall which left Cavendish with a separated shoulder. “I think we have bounced back pretty well with two stage wins.
“It is a shame that Mark didn’t get to go for the sprints in the Tour. We can’t say ‘what ifs’ because that is how the race panned out. But if we look back at the stages – for example, the one into London, then stage seven and stage 15, Cav would never let my wheel go. I think in that situation there would be a good chance that he would win.”
Cavendish was top sprinter for many years at the Tour but saw another rider, Marcel Kittel, take over that mantle last year. The German notched up four stage wins; Cavendish was fatigued after riding the full Giro d’Italia and managed just two.
A restructured programme saw him arrive at the Tour fresher than twelve months earlier. It’s a change which Renshaw felt would have made the difference in his duels with Kittel and the other riders.
“Cav missed a period after Sanremo when he felt sick. It didn’t put him on the back foot, though – it just delayed the build-up a little bit. But with Turkey, California and the Tour de Suisse, I think he was improving.”
Asked if he thinks his team-mate could have beaten Kittel, he doesn’t hesitate with his answer. “Certainly. He never disappoints in the big races. People talk before the start of the season about his fitness and his weight, but when it comes to the crunch time he is always there. I think he would have been able to do it.”
That’s theory, of course. Without the head-to-head happening, he knows that there is no knowing what definitely would have happened. “It is what it is,” he accepted. “Now we look towards next year.”
Before then, though, he has an appointment with the Champs Elysees. Others will be regarded as the favourites on that stage, particularly last year’s winner there, Kittel.
Alexander Kristoff, Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol), Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and several others will also be closely watched.
However surprises have happened before and, thinking back to 2009 and the strong result he posted there, Renshaw will be looking for his own opportunity. If the stars align, he might yet achieve that dream result.