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.