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ANTALYA, Turkey (VN) — Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) landed his first victory of the season in his first foray as the go-to man at the Tour of Turkey Wednesday.
After spending much of his career developing into the preeminent setup man in the game, the Aussie took the chance to try his own luck as the closer for Rabobank in the wake of the closure of the High Road franchise last year.
Since joining Rabobank, however, Renshaw’s search for that elusive first victory continued through the spring classics, despite some close calls. He’s racing this week at the Tour of Turkey, and in Wednesday’s fourth stage punched through to the top step on the podium in an excruciatingly narrow photo finish over Matthew Goss (GreenEdge).
VeloNews caught up with Renshaw before stage 4 to talk sprints, Cavendish and the art of the set-up:
VeloNews: How have the first few months gone integrating to Rabobank? They are very Dutch, right?
Mark Renshaw: It’s always a little bit hard to fit in with a new team, but things have been going really good. I have had great form, but no wins to date. I am working on that, and am getting closer. It’s a matter of getting the train going and setting it up. It’s still very Dutch. It’s a lot different than what I’ve been in. It takes time to adjust, but all the guys are great. We’re starting to come together as a team.
VN: Who is there on the team to set you up for the sprints, something that you used to doing?
MR: We got (Theo) Bos here and (Graeme) Browne. Browne is probably the best lead-out rider on Rabobank, so we will put Bos on his wheel, and I will behind him. We will probably rotate every now and then with Theo, and we will both get a chance.
VN: So you made the move to Rabobank to take your own chances? Did you simply reach a point when you wanted to try?
MR: Of course, I wanted this opportunity. Had I stayed with Cav, I would have been riding for him in every race and never have a chance. I’ve had a few shots up until now. This is the first big race I have done with Theo. I have had a few opportunities so far, but I haven’t put a win on the board yet.
VN: How much pressure do you feel to win?
MR: When you’re a sprinter, you have to win; but when you’re racing against Greipel, Cavendish and Kittel, it’s hard. They have got a lot better teams for lead-out than what we have here. There is pressure from myself, but the team wants to win no matter what they start. So the only pressure I feel is from myself.
VN: Was the chance to be a lead sprinter the main reason for the move to Rabobank?
MR: I had a few offers, four or five offers I could have chosen from. This was the best one I had. Here, I have a chance to win, and everything else was a good package. I would have liked to have stayed with Cav, but I would have never gotten the opportunity to win. I thought now was the right time to take the chance. If it works, it works; if it doesn’t, then I always know what I can go back to doing.
VN: What’s it like watching Cavendish race now on Sky?
MR: I am still good friends with him and Bernie (Eisel). We still stay in contact. He has a lot going on now. He just had a baby girl. I see him around. It’s still racing. It’s still a job. I have given a few goes in the races. That’s part of the game. I want to beat him.
VN: Cavendish always gave you kudos for being a great lead-out man, what do you take from that experience?
MR: I learned a lot at High Road. And that is probably why I learned how to do the lead-out so well from all the experience I had with all the sprinters that I worked with. It wasn’t only Cav, but I led out Greipel for 20 wins, Greg Henderson, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Matt Goss. Before that it was Thor Hushovd. There have been a lot of sprinters I have worked with.
VN: How will that experience help you as a lead sprinter?
MR: It all comes down to positioning. That’s all that matters. Some guys push a little bit more power and some guys are a little bit faster, but if you do not have the position, it doesn’t matter. The positioning is 50 percent of the race. If you’re bad in position, you’re already behind the 8-ball.
VN: So it’s obvious you cannot win four wheels back?
MR: You see that. Look at Kittel, he’s probably one of the fastest guys right now, but he won’t be up there because he’s still learning how to do the positioning. You see that with Greipel already. He’s stronger with Cav. There are a lot of races where he could beat him, but he doesn’t have the positioning.
VN: What’s the key to positioning?
MR: It’s all about the team. The team makes the difference. Having a strong team and a few guys who you trust to put you there.
VN: Describe what it’s like barreling toward the line at 65kph?
MR: Everyone is shit-scared, to put it mildly. Here [at the Tour of Turkey], the sprints are pretty rough. There were guys going everywhere. Here you have guys with all different abilities. At the Tour, everyone is on the highest level and everyone knows their job. Here, you have guys going kamikaze, and that’s what makes it dangerous.
VN: What are your top goals for the 2012 season?
MR: I wanted to win in Down Under and Qatar. I was second in Down Under and fourth in Qatar. I just missed the win there. From there, it was the classics, which are not really my thing, but I still wanted to go well. Now I start the build-up for the Giro and Tour. Hopefully, try to win something here and at the Giro before the Tour.
VN: What would a win do for your confidence?
MR: It would just flick the switch and make it a lot easier for the Giro. Sometimes one win changes everything. It makes the motivation go up. I would love to get a win here before the Giro.
VN: Are the Olympics on your radar screen?
MR: They only take five riders and they want to take two time trialists. Goss is pre-qualified, Gerrans is by far the best rider in Australia at the moment, and then you need a rider like Haymen or O’Grady to pull. Then two time trial riders with Evans, Porte or Rogers. I am not thinking about the Olympics. I want to go well in the Tour and the Giro. If I have great form or someone else has some injuries, I may come into the fray.
VN: What happened at last year’s worlds when you were left off the team?
MR: That’s all been reported. Everyone had their own story. I am still disappointed that I was left off the team. There’s probably a lot more to it.
VN: The worlds are probably not in your plans this year, either?
MR: Not at all. The team time trial is on this year, and I might not even ride that. I might just shut the season down early and come out in good form for Down Under.