Changing teams is part of life for every pro cyclist. It can involve anything from a simple change of jersey if the transition is just a new sponsor, to a complete overhaul of a rider’s role and equipment. Mark Renshaw has been through that latter and explains in Eurosport’s Blazing Saddles column that it’s not been straightforward.
For the last two year’s Renshaw’s role at Rabobank/Blanco/Belkin was to try and win races, as one of the team’s designated sprinters. Now he’s back with Mark Cavendish at Omega Pharma-Quick Step, recreating the partnership of sprinter and lead-out man that was scorchingly successful when the two rode together for HTC.
That means a nominal step down in status for Renshaw, but it seems he couldn’t be happier.
“I was happy to come back to the lead-out after doing my own thing for the past couple of years,” said Renshaw. “I definitely prefer the role now, it’s far easier for me. I’m much better at leading out than trying to win races.
“I think I’m going to stay with this role now for the rest of my career, it’s what comes easier and it’s what I’m best at. I’m 31 years old, and it’s something I enjoy so it totally makes sense.”
Renshaw said that when OPQS decided to invest more in the lead-out, it was Cavendish’s idea to bring him aboard. “It’s tried and tested and he wants someone he trusts and can rely on. Obviously it’s worked really well in the past so I was his number one choice.”
That’s hardly surprising. In a 2011 interview with VeloNation, Cavendish said of Renshaw: “There’s no one in the world that can do his job; he’s the best in the world at what he does.”
But if anyone expected the reunited duo to immediately start blowing away the opposition and winning everything in sight, it hasn’t been that easy.
Renshaw said: “It’s definitely taken a few races to get back into the old rhythm that’s for sure. In the Tour of Dubai we didn’t have it quite right; we were missing each other at the finish, we didn’t quite have the positioning and formation right. In the Tour of Algarve we won the final stage, but it still took a few days to get organised, but now we’ve done a few more races it’s starting to come together, but in the start it was difficult.”
Part of the problem is that there’s no way to reproduce in training the barely-controlled chaos of a race finish.
“We didn’t do any sprint training at all,” said Renshaw. “It’s difficult to do sprint drills as you can’t really replicate race conditions. There’s only so much you can plan, quite often you have to react in the moment, and you only really get that experience through racing.”
Renshaw also had to adapt to a new bike and new equipment, changing over from the Shimano-equipped Giant bikes and fizik saddles of his previous team to Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s SRAM-propelled Specialized Venge bikes and saddles.
“I had to change pretty much the whole set-up of my bike,” Renshaw said. “I had to use a new seat type I’d never ridden before so that was a big change. I had to make sure I got the correct height to ensure I had the right cleat position, which is obviously really important.
“With the handlebars I went 2cm smaller in width, and to add to that I changed from Shimano to SRAM gears, which is a totally different way of shifting. I’d been on Shimano for 11 years, so it was like learning to ride a bike again.”
While very occasionally a top rider gets his way when it comes to bikes and equipment, that’s not the case here, but Renshaw is philosophical.
“Once you sign the contract, you don’t have an option,” he said. “Obviously those are the most important parts of the bike, and I needed time to adjust which took me a long time. But I was changing my role also, and although it’s something I’ve done in the past, it’s not what I had been doing for the past two years so I was a little rusty.”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.