At the beginning of the 2011 season, we featured three riders from one team on the cover: Mark, Mark and Matt. Otherwise known as ‘Cav’, ‘Rendog’ and ‘Gossie’, the trio was part of a formidable sprint line-up in the final season of the Highroad team. The three went their separate ways: Cavendish to Sky (in 2012), then Omega Pharma-Quickstep (in 2013), Renshaw to Rabobank (which became Blanco, which became Belkin), and Goss to Orica-GreenEdge.
The idea was for each to become the respective sprinters of their new teams. Cav kept on winning, Goss earned a few results in 2012 but barely rated a mention in 2013, and Renshaw never quite lived up to his expectations.
In 2014, Renshaw will return to doing what he did best only a few short years ago: leading out the best sprinter of his generation. The boy from Bathurst will soon be reunited with his mate from the Isle of Man. RIDE spoke with the 31-year-old about his ‘lost season’ in 2013 and what we can expect from him in 2014 when he joins Omega Pharma-Quickstep.
Mark and Mark: together again
(26 November 2013)
– By Rob Arnold
RIDE: Obviously everyone will want to know about the big return of the Mark and Mark show. Do you have anything new to add?
Mark Renshaw: “All I can keep saying is that it’s not going to be as easy as it was before. Now there are a lot of teams that have good lead-outs and it’ll be difficult for us to emulate what we had back in the HTC [ie. Highroad] days.
“It’s only been two seasons apart from ‘Cav’ but it seems like forever. He’s had two teams in two years and myself, I’ve been at Rabobank which became Blanco and became Belkin in that time. You quickly forget that cycling is changing very rapidly.”
Does it feel a little like you’re making a comeback?
“The last two years, I’ve been on a higher level than I was at with HTC. I was definitely fitter but a few accidents and a few unlucky things and the season can turn on its head pretty quickly. Generally I was better these last two years than what I was before that.”
Was there anything about the methodology at Rabo/Blanco/Belkin that was different and helped?
“Ah, I think I was working harder. I wanted to be successful after the move away from Cav so that provided me with a lot of motivation. There were just a few things that went wrong and that happens…
“The crash in the Tour of Turkey [in April] took a lot out of me. I broke my collarbone so I needed an operation. I knocked one of my front teeth out and that took a while to fix. And the worst thing was my ankle: I tore one of the three fascias running on the outside of the ankle. My collarbone healed relatively quickly but the ankle held me up; I couldn’t ride and put any pressure through my legs.”
It would have been a different season had you been fit all the way through anyway…
“Yeah, but that was a big turning point in the year. If I got through Turkey, no problem – I’d done a big block of altitude at home in the tent (see extras below for more) and I was meant to go to the Tour de Suisse and then onto the Tour de France… and the season would certainly have looked a lot differently if I had stayed on my bike in the Tour of Turkey.”
The Dutch have a reputation for being methodical and very organised. Is it like that at Belkin? If so, did it take away some of the fun components of your job?
“Oh, there are fun guys in the team, for sure. But being a Dutch team means it’s very much a Dutch mentality. Some times I think they struggled with the foreigners on the team; they’ve had foreigners on the team for a long time but I still think it does help to be Dutch.
“They worked hard this season to try and change that. They had a new training and a new coach/manager, Merijn Zeeman, who came over from Argos-Shimano and he did a really good job. He changed the mentality a little bit.”
Who were the stand-out team-mates for those two years that you raced as part of that organisation?
“I think the up-and-coming talent is Moreno Hofland. I did a few races with him during the season and he’s a really good guy. He’ll probably go a long way.
“To me, one of the biggest talents in cycling at the moment is Wilco Kelderman. It wouldn’t surprise me if, one day, he goes to the Tour and ends up on the podium. He’s got enormous potential: he’s young, he’s not afraid to take on anyone in the final, he likes to race and attack… if he gets smarter, he’s got the engine to get some really big results.”
What about Theo Bos, did you spend much time racing with him?
“I did a fair few races through the season with him. He also lives in Monaco so we see each other quite a bit. I think he’s developing. It’s pretty phenomenal that he came from being a track sprinter to the road; I came from track endurance to the road and that took a few years to adjust so I can only imagine how long and how much work it took for him to make the change.
“In the grand scheme of things, he’s not far from those top tier sprinters: Greipel, Kittel, Cav… he showed that, on his day, he can beat them.”
And you and your sprint ambitions: what’s become of that? Have you given up on it?
“Ah, I think there are still races I can win. I think that, through the few years at Rabo and Belkin, I had a few chances. Graeme Brown did a lot of work for me in the lead-outs but we probably missed one or two others and it never really clicked with the whole team.
“For now I’m happy to go back to the leading out role – looking after Cav and teaching some of the young guys while also learning a little bit from [Alessandro] Petacchi and [Geert] Steegmans and those guys. It’ll be interesting in the team.”
It’s definitely a formidable lead-out train but it’s also a team that can win time trials. And now there’s also Rigoberto Uran turning up so there’s a little bit of everything at Omega Pharma-Quickstep in 2014 isn’t there?
“Yeah, definitely. It’s a big mix in the team so this first camp in a couple of weeks is going to be interesting. It’ll be good to sit down with all the guys, meet everyone and see how we’re going to do things next year.
“It’s going to take a lot of work but I think we’ve got really good bike riders, so it shouldn’t be too hard.”
You’ve worked with a good range of sprinters, primarily with Thor Hushovd and Mark Cavendish… and we all understand your friendship with Cav. How important is it that you get on so well in a job like the one you have?
“It is needed but what’s more important is getting results. It helps when you’re friends but I think that, as long as the sprinter has trust in the team, then it’ll work. I think Cav is the master of that: he pulls his team together, he looks after the guys, and they repay him by giving 100 per cent. That’s probably what didn’t happen at Rabobank – guys weren’t prepared to lay it on the line for others guys… but you can see on teams with Cav that guys will give it their all for him.”
Does it feel like you’re just going back to a large group who you worked with in 2011?
“No, it’s a whole new team and a whole new journey. Cav is there and Tony [Martin] and a few of the other guys from HTC including a lot of staff and some management but Patrick Lefévère runs a tight ship and he’s got a really good team together. It’s not going to be like it was at HTC.”
We end up assuming that if Cav is going to the Tour de France, you will be too but what is going to lead you to July?
“I don’t know too much just yet. We have a meeting in December – I’ll be over there for two weeks – and we’ll talk about a lot then. I’m guessing I’ll start with the Tour Down Under and Cav will start overseas somewhere and we’ll probably hook up at Qatar and there’ll maybe be some racing in Spain or Portugal.
“We’ll mostly be doing stage races; I don’t know how many one-day races we’ll do.
“With Milan-San Remo being more difficult [with some new course changes] I don’t see us going there with big ambitions. From what I read in the media, it’s going to be quite different…”
According to Cav you can’t always believe what you read in the media…
“Ah nah, you can’t. Not always, that’s true. They like to write a few things about him but I think it’s clear that the Tour is going to be the big objective next year. He’s maybe got some fire in his belly after 2013. He’s now won the points jersey in the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta so I think he’ll look to going back to winning stages in the Tour, and the green jersey.”
On a personal level will there be any opportunities. A lot of sprinters and/or lead-out men – guys of your ilk – end up, in their later years, as Classics men. Is that how it looks like shaping up for you?
“Nah. I’m not really interested in the Classics. It’s a way to end your career: one crash in the Classics can end everything.
“I just want to focus on what I’m good at: doing the lead-out and working on positioning for my team. I won’t say that I’ll never do a Classic but for now I know what my role is.”
To finish up, can you explain how different it is to be a pro bike rider when you’re a father…?
“It’s a big difference. People tell you that, when you have a baby, your life changes. The days certainly pass a lot quicker and there’s a lot less time to do the things you need to do. My wife and I are much busier these days. It’s more rewarding but also a lot more work. It’s hard to time juggle, but I wouldn’t change a thing: I love being a dad.”
* * * * *
Sleeping at altitude while at home…
The reference by Mark about “doing a big block of altitude at home in the tent” sent the discussion off on a tangent for a few minutes. ‘Hypoxic chambers’ – or whatever you chose to call them – are not new but they are more prevalent than a few years ago. They are banned for use by athletes in some countries and there’s a perception amongst some that the use of an altitude tent is essentially another form of ‘cheating’.
I asked Mark a few extra questions on the topic…
– When sleeping in the tent, is it good or bad for healing?
“It’s bad for healing. Whenever you crash, or when you’re sick, you don’t want to get into an altitude tent because it adds stress on your body and you want to avoid that when things aren’t going well.”
– How high do you set the altitude for a good night’s rest?
“Pretty much the same as what we might do when we’re actually training and staying at altitude at St Moritz or somewhere like that. You don’t want to go much higher than 2,500m.”
– When you step out in the morning, do you feel the effects immediately?
“It’s just an added stress on your body. It’s hard for the riders in the season to do big periods because we also have to race every few weeks. It’s more about trying to get as much benefit as you can over a period, and it could be one week here and one week there… the more you can consistently doing it, the better off you are.
“The studies have shown what all the benefits are. For me it works pretty well for losing weight. And it’s the little one-percenters that equal a fair bit at the end of the road when it’s all added up.”
– Is it because you’re sleeping with a higher heart-rate that the weight loss comes…?
“Yes. That burns more calories, I suppose. It’s that little bit of added pressure on your body that adds up.”
– Do you ever climb into the tent feeling like you’re doing something wrong?
“No, not at all. If they were banned, I wouldn’t use it. I think it’s only in Italy – and I don’t know why, to be honest.
“There are a lot of riders in the peloton who are using them. To be honest though, it’s much better to actually go to altitude than to use a hypoxic simulation such as an altitude machine; if you can really go up a mountain for a while then it’s much better.”