Mark Renshaw made a leap of faith joining Rabobank in late 2011. The pretence was that he would be given more opportunities for himself with the full support of the team behind him. But with Rabobank's unashamed pushing of the case of Dutchman Theo Bos, that pretence is wearing thin, writes Al Hinds.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Leading out Cavendish is a prestigious job for sure, but I still have ambitions. I think this year I'll have a little more of a chance to fight for some objectives myself, and get the chance to win a race or two.Mark Renshaw is no different to most sprinters, he likes to win. When he made the above remarks at an HTC training camp at the end of the 2010 season, it was clear that the Australian was already beginning to itch for his own chances at races, to fulfil his own ambitions.

At 29 years of age and approaching his physical prime, Renshaw made the decision to part ways with comfort, security, and I'm sure a handsome pay cheque to move away from the formidable pairing he had honed with Mark Cavendish at Highroad, and forge his own way at Rabobank, which had parted ways with its lead man Oscar Freire.

"For many years I've helped others to win race, now I'm going to try to win some of the biggest competitions myself," said Renshaw of his hopes for his new team.

But if Renshaw was of the belief that he'd be 'numero uno' at Rabobank, the equivocal welcomes of team manager Erik Breukink and another ambitious sprinter, former Dutch track king Theo Bos, suggest something less conclusive.

"Mark is the best lead-out man in the world," Bos said. "I'm really thrilled that Renshaw has chosen us. The partnership with Mark will help me in my own development."

For me Bos's words were a sign that Rabobank were not fully committed to either rider becoming a leader.

Things became more uncertain still after Renshaw's misfiring start at the Santos Tour Down Under in January, and the Tour of Qatar a little over a week later.

From a management perspective, you can understand Rabobank's approach. Neither Bos, nor Renshaw are what you would call proven winners, and the team clearly wanted to see who would best represent them by giving both riders ample opportunities.

But rather than carving up the racing calendar between them, Bos and Renshaw have ridden together consistently throughout the season.

What's more, Bos has never supported Renshaw in a road race, he's never been able to. The Dutchman more often than not gets dropped before the finish, but where Bos has been able to hang on, he has been given the lead-out from Renshaw.

Unsurprisingly Bos has benefited by taking a couple more victories so far this season than the Australian who has more or less had to go it alone.

It's like having Robbie McEwen give Gert Steegmans a lead-out at Lotto, or Thor Hushovd lead-out Julian Dean at Credit Agricole. Sure it's going to be damn effective but it's a slightly eccentric way of going about things.

Despite this growing inequity, Rabobank has continued to stress the idea of a partnership between the two riders.

After winning his first race in Rabobank colours on stage 4 of the Tour of Turkey, Renshaw said he was happy with the arrangement.

"I was the lead-out man for Mark Cavendish but now I'm a sprinter who splits the roles between lead-out and sprints with Theo Bos. It has worked pretty well for us here."

Hold on, that's not what was talked about at the start of the season though was it?

Added Bos:

"There is certainly no conflict. I'm not strong enough in the hills. He is stronger uphill, stronger in harder races. In flat, fast races, that's my strength. We're divided a little bit like this. If it's windy and rainy, were going to work for Mark and if it's not, it's for me."

In other words; when Bos is there Renshaw is meant to give up his own chances. Hardly a sweet deal is it? To his credit, Bos agrees.

"I can't do anything for Mark at the moment. It's not a nice feeling. I have to improve so that I can pay him back."

Rabobank has invested significantly in Bos to get him to where he is today - winning minor races. As a Dutch rider in a Dutch team I get that they want him to succeed. But in a sport of tiny percentages, sacrificing an arguably stronger rider to bolster the chances of a weaker one will ultimately not be something that yields the team long-term success.

It's gotten to the point where it's now beyond questionable or slightly eccentric. Renshaw needs a vote of confidence from the team. For what he's given up at SKY to pursue his own ambitions, the team owes him that much.
We've seen it in Turkey, Renshaw is the best man in the lead-out for Theo Bos.Sadly, it doesn't seem like things are going to change any time soon.