• The Tour de France is an important race for out-of-contract Mark Renshaw and sprinter Mark Cavendish (Getty Images)
Motor enthusiast Mark Renshaw passed on the Formula One GP at his Monaco base for missed family time after an extensive but victorious period away racing for an in-form Mark Cavendish last month.
By
Sophie Smith

2 Jun 2015 - 7:35 AM  UPDATED 2 Jun 2015 - 7:37 AM

The roar of engines in the rich principality was not the welcoming sound it once was following a three-week stint on the road in which the lead-out specialist piloted Cavendish to a collective seven stage haul at the Tour of Turkey and the Tour of California.

“Most who live here leave Monaco, it turns into party central. I’ve been away for a month and just got home so we got a hotel down the coast, with a pool, and relaxed there,” Renshaw told Cycling Central of the excursion with his wife and two-year-old son.  “I still watched the race but I don’t need the Ferraris at 3am, I need to sleep.”

Renshaw prominently assisted Cavendish to three stages victories in Turkey and another four in California where their Etixx-QuickStep team-mate Julian Alaphilippe also finished second overall.

“I think now there is more team focus around Cav for races. In California we had Julian, who shocked a lot of people finishing second, but we didn’t invest anything really in his placing there. It was because he has so much talent that he was second,” Renshaw said.

“I was really good in Turkey. In California, the jet lag and the racing, I kind of get, not worse but I don’t improve the more I race whereas Cav improves the more he races,” he continued. “That’s why he is unbeatable in the third week of a Grand Tour, he kind of gets better and most people get worse. I was happy to finish racing that’s for sure.”  

Renshaw has served as a road captain at Etixx-QuickStep this season, “I’m starting to be one of the more experienced guys in the team now, which helps out with that role”, and more or less mirrored Cavendish’s race program, the second-to-last man in lead-outs that have assisted the tempestuous sprinter to 13 wins to date.

Etixx-QuickStep in the run to the Tour de France has continued to refine its train to effect, determining an order that this year doesn’t include the retired Alessandro Petacchi.

“I think last year it never really worked brilliantly between Petacchi, Renshaw and Cav, they never really found it,” sports director Brian Holm said. “Last year we started off trying in the lead-out first with Renshaw leading out Petacchi and then Cav, Petacchi wanted to be ahead of Cav, but it never really worked.

“It always makes a difference with Renshaw, for sure,” Holm added. “Of course it makes a difference the last 500m but it’s also before when we have to start to ride, or slow down, give gas. Cav probably would have won also without Renshaw but maybe not four [stages at California], maybe only two and the break would have got home. It’s impossible to say. For sure it makes a big difference for everybody.”

Cavendish was resentful when his chief pilot left him following the demise of Highroad in 2011 to try his hand as an outright sprinter for two seasons. However the pair, after reuniting as team-mates last year, have begun to work synonymously once more in flat stages and both out of contract are set to sell as a package going forward.

“We’ve done just about every race together, apart from the Tour Down Under,” Renshaw said. “I was brought to the team to ride with him so that’s the program I get.

“At this stage nothing has really been thrown around but Cavendish and I are out of contract this year so we’ll look to stay together and keep the formula, winning. We both use different managers but part of his negotiations will probably be that I continue with him.

“It’s obvious being a lead-out rider suits me a lot more than as a lead sprinter,” he added. “It’s something that always came easy I suppose you could say - when and where and to go and that kind of thing. There’s certainly some big cycles in there but I’m in the role now and pretty comfortable.

“As a leader you have to handle a lot of pressure and Cav is great at that. That’s what he has done his whole career so you see that side of the coin - what the leader has to deal with - they shoulder a lot of pressure in the team.”

Renshaw did not linger at the coastal retreat long, speaking to Cycling Central just after a training ride.
The Tour de France is now in his sights and the 102nd edition, with multiple flat stages in the first week, will provide early opportunity for Cavendish to reassert his authority at the race, which Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) has effectively ruled since 2013.  

Etixx-QuickStep general manager Patrick Lefevere suggested in February that Cavendish’s performance at the Tour and specifically against Kittel, who has been sidelined due to illness for much of the season, may impact on contract talks thereby adding to the gravity of the event.

“Now is the final build-up for the Tour de France,” Renshaw said.

“I stick to the training I’ve done over the past. This block now is mainly power and speed for the last of the lead-out. I’ve done a lot of racing this year so there’s no real need to work on endurance.  

“There is a lot more pressure now and the next two weeks. It’s the main part of the season where you need to focus, not get sick, not crash. It’s the most important part now; this build-up kind of determines how the Tour goes.”

Renshaw and 25-time Tour stage winner Cavendish are set to compete at the mountainous Tour de Suisse (13-21 June) over the sprint-friendly Ster ZLM race, which Kittel is due to start, prior to the Grand Depart in Utrecht, Netherlands on 4 July.
 
“It’s just a preference for Cav, he likes to go and do some training in the mountains. It’s probably the hardest race of the season, Tour de Suisse, it’s all packed into one week but it is a good hit out for Tour de France,” Renshaw said.

The Australian is set be a reassuring asset to Cavendish’s redemptive campaign at the Tour de France, which the Manxman crashed out of last year, able to produce the firepower but also, keeping a relatively cool head.

“He never gets rocked by any kind of panic,” Holm said. “He’s extremely organised with everything he is does. I wonder how he can turn into the bad-arse sprinter when he’s sitting on the bike.”

@SophieSmith86

SBS will broadcast every stage of the Tour de France live.