By: Tom Hines
With the penultimate stage of the Tour de France just three days away, Bathurst cycling product Mark Renshaw is preparing for a triumphant return to Paris, having rediscovered top form as a sprinter.
At the race’s Grand Départe three weeks ago, Renshaw was set to resume his role as a ‘lead out man’ for Mark Cavendish, after two fruitless seasons as a sprinter for Belkin and Rabobank.
But Cavendish crashed out of the tour on the very first day of racing, throwing their Omega Pharma-Quickstep team into disarray.
The team was set up to compete in the sprints and Renshaw was forced to step up and fill the shoes (or ‘cleats’) of the world’s best sprinter. He has not disappointed.
His junior cycling coach and mentor, Mark Windsor, says Renshaw is now putting in some of the best rides of his career.
“He’s totally matured as a cyclist and I think he’s physically at his best”, said Windsor.
“When he made the move to Rabobank and Belkin they didn’t have the teams set up the way he was used to, but at Omega Pharma Quickstep he is back in an environment where he is comfortable racing”.
Renshaw has grown into the race and now finds himself 6th in the standings for the Green Jersey – the sprinters jersey which is awarded to the most consistent rider over the course of the tour.
It has been a spectacular turnaround given the disappointing run of results that defined his last two injury plagued seasons.
Although Renshaw has finished in the top 5 on three occasions, even taking 3rd place on the podium in stage 3, a stage victory remains elusive.
Windsor believes it is only a matter of time before he pushes for higher stage honours, as he makes the mental leap from being the lead out architect to a clinical sprint finisher.
“If you have a look at the finishes so far, you can nearly see him thinking too much… when he really he just needs to put his head down and go”.
But the stars may yet align for Renshaw as he targets success on the Champs Elysees this Sunday.
In an interview with Fairfax media this week, Renshaw referred to the traditional Parisian finale as the “world championships of sprinting”.
Renshaw already tasted victory on the ‘Champs’, albeit as a lead out man, when he delivered Mark Cavendish to the line in first position in 2009. It was such a dominant lead-out that Renshaw finished 2nd behind his team mate.
That performance saw him gain the reputation of being the world’s best lead-out cyclist.
Windsor knows what the final stage in Paris means for Renshaw and expects him to shift up another gear heading into the Tour’s final stages.
“He’ll probably get a little more emotional and instead of overthinking the stage he’ll just go for it. I think he’s a big chance on the Champs Elysees”.
Renshaw has never forgotten his roots in the Central West of NSW where he returns to live every summer, completing his pre-season training around the hills of Bathurst.
It is this humble, down to earth style which has endeared him to the local community and there will no doubt be many bleary eyes at work on Monday as Bathurstians stay up late hoping to see Renshaw find the line first.
Photographs supplied by Kezza Images.