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ALANYA, Turkey — Leadout specialist Mark Renshaw (Etixx-Quick-Step) is no stranger to the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey. A year after taking a stage win in 2012 while riding for Rabobank-turned-Blanco, the 32-year-old Australian returned the following year with Blanco-turned-Belkin only to suffer the “worst crash of his career” which resulted in a concussion, fractured collarbone, and broken tooth.
After his two years with the Dutch team, Renshaw joined Omega-Pharma-Quick-Step (now Etixx-Quick-Step) in 2014, reuniting with Mark Cavendish to reform a duo that had been one of cycling’s most successful partnerships a few years prior.
Renshaw piloted “Cav” to 14 Tour de France stage wins and a green jersey during an ultra successful three-year stint with the British sprinter at HTC-Highroad from 2009 to 2011, and has led Cavendish to 11 wins with Quick-Step, including four stage wins and a points classification at the Tour of Turkey alone.
“It’s always nice to come back here … and it seems to be a little bit better each year,” said Renshaw. “I’ve seen the good and bad here.”
“The crash was certainly the biggest crash I ever had, and it took a lot to recover from that. I lost the ability to ride in the [Tour de France] and a good half of the season was that crash – it affected a lot – and it took a long time to come back.”
Now another year on, Renshaw and Cav return to Turkey to face a loaded field that contains many of pro cycling’s top sprinters, including André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) and dual threats from Southeast’s Alessandro Petacchi and Jakub Mareczko and MTN-Qhubeka’s Theo Bos and Youcef Reguigui.
Success will not be easy for QuickStep. The team joins GreenEdge as the only two teams (out of 21) not fielding a full eight-man squad on the start of stage 1 after having been plagued by illness and injuries all season.
Martin Velits and Lukasz Wisniowski suffered injuries after both were involved in a crash at Gent-Wevelgem in March. Velits sustained a broken right collarbone, while Wisniowski suffered an injured right knee.
In April, Carlos Verona suffered a scaphoid fracture of the left hand as consequence of crash at País Vasco, and is expected to be out of action 10-12 weeks.
Of the seven Quick-Step riders scheduled to start on the 145-kilometer opening stage on Sunday, both Renshaw and Cavendish have overcome illness while Tom Boonen makes his return after undergoing surgery on a shoulder injury sustained during stage 1 at Paris-Nice.
“A lot of teams will be looking at us,” admitted Renshaw. “This is Tom’s first race after Paris-Nice so we can’t expect him to be riding on the front.
“There a lot of other sprinters here so we will expect Lotto and GreenEdge to help.
“In the final we’ve got a really strong team, and I think Cav is still one of the best sprinters here.
“Hopefully he wins three or four stages and it works out well, but it won’t be easy with the amount of top riders here.”
After Renshaw opened his season at the Tour Down Under and Cavendish raced the Tour de San Luis – taking a stage win and two second-place results – to start the season, the duo reunited in the Dubai Tour.
In Dubai, Cavendish took two stages and claimed both the general and points classifications. In total, Cavendish has racked up six wins this season, and while Renshaw acknowledges the evolution of the sport, he sees no signs of the “Manx Missile” slowing down.
“It’s changed a lot since HTC,” Renshaw said. “Back then we were the first team to perfect the leadout. We had a lot of big riders and a lot of strong riders and now if we look across the board, most teams are at the same caliber. Giant, GreeEdge, and Lotto all have big strong riders and most of them have an ex-rider from HTC.
“The last couple of years have evened out the sprint field. I don’t think Cav has gotten any slower, I think the other guys have gotten faster.
“He looks to me to be a lot more focused,” he added. “He’s always a good bike rider all year around, but this year it’s that little bit extra focus to win big races. He’s already won a lot and I thing the next block of racing with Turkey, California, and of course, finishing with the Tour will see him in better shape than last year.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.