Monday, 22 October 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 22.10.12

Mark Renshaw
Renshaw at the Tour Down Under, 2011
Born in Bathurst, New South Wales on this day in 1982, Mark Renshaw started out as a track cyclist and won four National Championship titles in the Under-17 category in 1998, then two more as an U-19 in 1999 (when he also rode for the winning Pursuit team at the Worlds) and another four as an U-19 in 2000 (when he again rode with the winning Pursuit team at the Worlds and became World U-19 Kilo Champion). In 2001 he became Elite National Individual Time Trial Champion and in 2002 Elite National Scratch and Points Champion, riding with the winning Pursuit team at the Nations, the Manchester round of the World Cup and the World Championships.

Renshaw undoubtedly had a glittering career on the track ahead of him and with consistently excellent results in 2002 it looked as though that was indeed where his destiny lay; yet it was that same year that he made the switch into road racing. The process began with an invitation to join the FDJeux development team which, after he finished Stage 4 at the Herald Sun Tour in second place, was upgraded to a traineeship in the team's ProTour squad the following season. Victory at the Be Active Criterium Series and good results at several other races that year (having not turned his back entirely on track, he also became National Madison Champion alongside Graeme Brown) brought him a full professional contract with the team in 2004, the year he finished two stages at the Tour de l'Avenir in second place. In 2005 he rode his first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, and finished one stage in eighth place before coming 144th overall; then at the end of the year he announced he would be moving to Crédit Agricole and, in his first season with them, won a stage at the Jayco Bay Classic, won the Tro-Bro Léon, impressed with third and second place stage finishes at the Tour Méditerranéen and Sachsen Tour, rode at but did not finish the Vuelta a Espana and then took two second place stage finishes at the Circuit Franco-Belge. In 2007, still with Crédit Agricole, he won the General Classification at Jayco Bay, won Stage 2 at the Tour de Picardie and returned to the Vuelta, this time finishing top ten twice and completing in 144th place. 2008 was his final year with the team; after winning Jayco Bay again he went to the Tour Down Under and won Stage 1 before coming third overall in the Points competition, then rode at but did not finish his first Tour de France.

A devastatingly fast sprinter in his own right, Renshaw has found his greatest fame not by winning races but as the most specialised of domestiques - a lead-out man. When he moved to Columbia-HTC in 2009, he found himself riding alongside a young sprinter who, at 24 years old, was showing signs of the potential to become something extraordinary - his name was Mark Cavendish, and the two men formed a partnership that, at the Tour de France that year, led to an incredible six stage wins for the Manxman. They worked together again in 2010 to win five stages (Cavendish won the final stage for a second consecutive year, the first rider in the history of the Tour to have done so); then again in 2011 when Cavendish won another five stages, taking first place in the Points competition and once again winning the final stage. To some, it seems a strange job - putting in so much effort to enable someone else to take the glory - but it had its advantages: before long, Renshaw was being called the best lead-out man in cycling whereas he'd only ever have been a very good sprinter, and of course he had his opportunities to win races for himself, as was the case when he won the General Classification at the Tour of Qatar and Stage 5 at the Tour of Britain in 2011. That year, when the team became known as HTC-Highroad, owner and manager Bob Stapleton announced that he was experiencing difficulty in securing sponsorship for 2012 with several of the companies he approached hinting that they were reluctant to become involved with a sport perceived by many as being rife with doping; this being especially unfortunate in Highroad's case because, following the transition to Stapleton's ownership after the troubled years when the team raced as T-Mobile (home to a number of riders to be implicated in high profile doping cases), it had been the first team to introduce its own anti-doping rules and procedures that were stricter and more stringent than those already required by the UCI. Nevertheless, at the end of the season, both the men's and women's teams were dissolved - a reminder that, despite all that had been done since the bad old days of the Festina Affair and Operacion Puerto, cycling still suffered the effects of what had happened in the past.

It was widely expected that Cavendish and Renshaw would remain together, continuing their partnership at a team that could afford them both, but this was not the case - following several months of somewhat hyped-up, media-delighting uncertainty, Cavendish went to Team Sky and Renshaw to Rabobank. Cav, whom some believed would be unable to win without Renshaw's help, won three stages at the Tour de France, including the final stage for a fourth time; Renshaw went to Rabobank where he rode once again with his old Madison partner Graeme Brown. Now permitted more chances to ride for himself, he finished top ten 25 times that season, including a victory on Stage 4 at the Tour of Turkey when he beat his fellow Australian Matthew Goss (one of the few sprinters able to take on Cav), three top ten stage finishes at the Giro d'Italia and one at the Tour de France (which he abandoned in Stage 12, suffering pain from four crashes earlier on during the race).

Renshaw leading Cav
At the end of the year, when the full extent of USADA's investigation into Lance Armstrong and the huge doping program at US Postal in the late 1990s and early 2000s became apparent, Rabobank announced that after 17 years it would be ending its association with professional cycling, claiming that it no longer had confidence in the UCI's ability to combat the problem. The organisation said that, as it was too late for riders to secure new contracts elsewhere, it would honour its contracts and continue to provide financial support for the team in 2013 though without its name being used; Renshaw will, therefore, see out his two-year contract despite showing some signs of unhappiness at his team's decision to support their General Classification contenders rather than their sprinters. Meanwhile, Cav - having experienced a similar situation at the Tour de France when Sky threw their full weight behind Bradley Wiggains, will ride for Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 2013. In August 2012, Renshaw told Cycling News: "You never know what can happen, I told [Cav] that when I left, it's a small world and there could be a chance that we hook-up again. I enjoyed working with him. I'm never going to rule out riding with him again." In 2014, we may see the return of the greatest double act in cycling.

Born in Ramnäs, Sweden on this day in 1965, Marie Höljer became Junior National Individual Time Trial Champion in 1982 and then came second at the Elite National Road Race Championship a year later, when she also rode with the winning Elite time trial team (as she would again in 1986, 1987, 1989 and 1990). She became Elite National Individual Time Trial Champion in 1984 and 1991 and was Elite Road Race Champion again in 1988, 1989 and 1991; also taking either second or third in each competition in several of the intervening years before retiring in 2000.

Aad de Graaf, born in Rotterdam on this day in 1939, was Dutch Amateur Sprint Champion in 1960, 1961 and 1962, then came second in 1963 and 1964. In 1965 he turned professional, winning silver for the Sprint at the Elite National Championships that year and the next.

Other cyclists born on this day: Maxime Bally (Switzerland, 1986); Paul Schulze (Germany, 1882); Tim Carswell (New Zealand, 1971); Donna Wynd (New Zealand, 1961); Rudolf Franz (Germany, 1937); Pascal Robert (France, 1963); César Marcano (Venezuela, 1987).

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