Cycling has some of the best athletes in the world, but only a very select few will get showered with glory and praise.
Britain’s Mark Cavendish has won 30 separate stages of the Tour de France, but half of those wins probably wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the work of his lead out men. Chief among those is his Team Dimension Date colleague Mark Renshaw.
The Australian is widely regarded as the best in the business at what he does – put star Cavendish in a position to win.
He’ll be hoping to give him a head start towards victory in today’s Stage 4 of the Abu Dhabi Tour and he took time to sit down with Sport360’s Matthew Jones to chat about Cavendish as a room-mate, comedian as well as shade sponsor Oakley.
When and why did you start cycling?
I started aged 10, down at the local track. Just a kid on a BMX bike. A friend of the family got me started. I wouldn’t say from the start I wanted to be a road rider, I just loved riding my bike.
Can you remember your first bike?
I think it was just the cheapest BMX mum and dad could buy. But my first road racing bike was a loan from the club. It was bright pink. As a 10-year-old boy it wasn’t my favourite bike. I was very happy when it got handed back to the club and mum and dad bought me a new one.
When did you fall in love with cycling?
Probably 17 or 18 when I really realised I could make a career of it. There weren’t a whole lot of guys in school who were making a few hundred dollars a week riding their bike so I was quite happy with that.
As an Australian, there’s so many popular sports you’re good at as a nation, so why did you gravitate towards cycling?
I was going to an all boys school where you either played rugby league or union. I was representing New South Wales and riding for national titles. I wasn’t really popular at school because I didn’t like playing rugby and was having a lot of time off and I shaved my legs, so I wasn’t the school captain.
Who was your idol?
I was watching the Tour de France at 06:00 in Australia and Miguel Indurain was destroying the field. Evgeni Berzin riding with long blonde hair and no helmet.
Who is the biggest influence on your career?
I had some really big help when I was younger. Mark Windsor was my coach but he’s more family now, and Gary Sutton was the state coach for New South Wales, and he pointed me always in the right direction.
At what stage did you become a leadout man?
I turned pro in 2004. It wasn’t until 2006 when I went to Credit Agricole that I got put in the role of leading out. I learnt I was never going to be a winner and in cycling if you’re not going to be someone who wins you need to be someone that helps. It’s a niche role I fell into and I think my track experience helped me there.
Did it come naturally?
The first year was tough because I didn’t win any races. In pro cycling you either win or fall by the wayside. I was close about 20 times so I think the change of scenery helped me. And I never looked back.
How did you get together with Mark Cavendish?
I was riding with Thor Hushovd and the team folded in 2008 during the Tour de France. I spoke to Cav during the race and asked if he needed someone to help him and I spoke with Alan Piper who is a fellow Australian and was with HTC or T-Mobile. I planted the seed and from there he gave me a shot.
How do you get on with Cav away from competing?
We know each other that well, there’s always a lot of banter. He likes to think he’s a comedian, but I think it’s way of deflecting attention or stress. We get on really well because we have to. We’re probably completely opposite in terms of personality.
What’s his worst habit?
He’s relentlessly got the same jokes. After 1,000 times you can’t not laugh at them because they’re so old. He tries to imitate European accents and not very successfully. They’re that bad, they’re funny. He doesn’t like wearing clothes in the room. That was probably the nail in the coffin for me not rooming with him anymore.
How would he describe you as a team-mate/friend?
I think he’d say I’m pretty committed to the team. I think I’m a pretty good team player and I’ve ridden most of my career in support of him, so I’m pretty proud to have helped him win some races.
Greatest strength as a cyclist?
Reading the bunch in a final. Knowing where and when.
What’s left for you to achieve?
I’d like Cav to help take Eddy Merckx’s Tour de France record. I can’t say exactly how many I’ve helped him win but it’s more than half, so it’d be nice to play a part in him breaking that record. Personally, just to try and take one or two wins a year.
Favourite place to race and why?
I love coming out to the Middle East. I love Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar. It’s some of the best racing because we have nice sprints more often than not.
What is the worst injury you’ve suffered?
I had a massive, massive crash at the Tour of Turkey in 2012. I went down 150m from the finish and took down probably 80 riders. There were probably 25 on top of me. I knocked out a few teeth, smashed my collarbone, broke my ankle.
The worst thing was taking all the skin off the inside of my legs because I went down on the wheel sideways. It was a bad burn that took the longest to heal because of the skin graft.
What’s the worst memory from your career?
The Tour de France is horrible because it just breaks you mentally. It’s the only race you never want to quit. I had three crashes one day and I was just a broken man, crying.
Been described as the best lead out man out there. How does that make you feel?
There’s a lot of good lead out men but I’m pretty proud to have stood out at the top of the game for the last seven years. I don’t think there’s anyone better than me.
Tell us a bit about your relationship with Oakley and what they do for the team?
We’re pretty lucky to have Oakley on board. They look after glasses and also clothing. I’ve been with them a long time so I’m pretty happy that they work with us in the team. They’re the best glasses by a mile.
UAE Team Emirates president Matar Al Dhaheri heralded a “great start” for the Emirates-backed team after skipper Rui Costa reigned supreme in a rain-soaked final stage at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday night.
The Portuguese rider held onto his slim lead in the General Classification after winning the critical mountain Stage 3 on Saturday. The 30-year-old was well protected by his team-mates on the Formula One track, finishing the race 14th to give him overall triumph ahead of Katusha-Alpecin’s Ilnur Zakarin by four seconds.
It signals rapid progress for a team established just two months ago and president Al Dhaheri declared his pride after admitting putting the team under tremendous pressure leading up to the third staging of the Tour – the first time it had been held as a WorldTour race.
“It was tremendous pressure for the team,” said Al Dhaheri.
“We put them under tremendous pressure because this was the first time a WorldTour race comes to the UAE. They proved they were successful, they are champions and they made a whole nation happy.
“It’s great (that the team could cement overall victory after winning Stage 3). It’s the second month and I’m very happy for the team and all the effort they make. The team, the coach, the doctors, the sponsors.
“I think we proved we have a good, young team. They have achieved what we are looking for, it’s a great start. We are having a good season and I hope we will continue on with the same spirit.”
Tour ambassador Mark Cavendish, meanwhile, spoke in glowing terms of the continued growth of the race.
“Absolutely, it has grown again this year,” said the 31-year-old Manx Missile who won the opening stage on Thursday.
“The field we had this year was probably the strongest we’ll get in the whole year. I’m proud to be part of it as an ambassador and to see how much it’s grown. It’s a nice race and you can see how good it is by the fact we had some good racing across the four days.”
Alberto Contador was satisfied with his display at the Abu Dhabi Tour and the Spaniard says his appearance in the Emirates had the desired effect as he looks ahead to the rest of the UCI WorldTour season.
The Trek–Segafredo mountain sensation – who along with Bahrain Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali is one of just two current riders to have won each of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana – caused confusion on Stage 3 of the Tour when he failed to launch a sustained challenge for the win on the crucial Jebel Hafeet ascent.
Saturday’s penultimate leg is renowned for being crucial to the overall General Classification victory, but an attack from favourites such as Contador, Nairo Quintana, Nibali and Fabio Aru never materialized at UAE Team Emirates’ Rui Costa claimed a stage victory that also set up overall triumph.
The 34-year-old Contador finished just over a minute back in 12th place but, having not initially been scheduled to participate in the UAE, claims he is good shape for Paris–Nice which begins on Sunday.
“It’s a race I like a lot. Now I go with a clear head to fight for the victory and we’ll see how I get on,” Contador said of the 75th edition edition of one of cycling’s most iconic races.
“At the end of the day, I decided to come to this race (Abu Dhabi Tour) at the last minute. When we decided to come here it was to gather speed. I had a training camp lined up between Andalucia and Paris-Nice, but we swapped it for this race to get the speed in the legs.
“And that’s what we did. There was a clear leader, Bauke (Mollema), and we had to get behind his chances.”
Portuguese rider Costa, who claimed a maiden race title for his team, having only come into existence in December, won a two man sprint on the Al Ain mountaintop against Katusha-Alpecin opponent Ilnur Zakarin.
The expected showdown between the favourites never unfolded. With teammate Mollema up near the front, Contador was not willing to give too much chase.
He instead stayed as close to Movistar’s Quintana as possible, so that the Colombian would not take the win.
“I’m a rider who likes to attack, but in this case, the better situation was this one,” added Contador, a multiple winner of each of cycling’s three Grand Tours (Tour de France 2007 & 2009; Giro 2008 & 2015; Vuelta 2008, 2012 & 2014).
“We have multiple cards in the team and we played them. For me, (Saturday) a different situation presented itself. At the end of the day, I’m often the most offensive rider, the one who launches a lot of attacks. (Saturday) it was the opposite role for me.
“It’s a role that I like, partly because I’m not so accustomed to doing it. But also I like it because my teammates then have more options.
“The truth is the sensations were good. Coming almost straight from Ruta (Vuelta a Andalucia, where he finished second overall) with the travel and the time changes, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. But the truth is I felt very good.
“(Saturday) we played the card of Bauke, which was good for us, and it was down to me to control the race. I knew that Nairo was the most dangerous rider, I knew that if I managed to control things for Bauke, it would be best way to make an impact.
“In the end, they took a lot of time up front, and Bauke wasn’t able to make it up. But still, it was good, another day of training.”