Mark Renshaw will become just the sixth Australian to have made 10 starts in the Tour de France.
Since making his debut in 2008 for Credit Agricole, Renshaw, from Bathurst in NSW’s Central West, has missed just one edition of the cycling epic due to injury.
In the years since he has represented a number of teams – HTC, Rabobank, Blanco Pro Cycling, Belkin, Etixx-QuickStep and now Dimension Data.
I love the Tour de France and love cycling, but with the pressure, it’s bloody hardMark Renshaw
He’s enjoyed stage podiums of his own and those he has worked to set up for teammates, he’s shone in sprints and struggled in steep climbs, he’s been forced to withdraw and also experienced finishing in Paris.
But for the man who began his cycling career with a track focus, reaching 10 starts in the Tour de France was something he’d never imagined he would achieve.
“When I started cycling, I started on the track so I never dreamt of the Tour de France. Then after a few years of track racing I saw this thing on TV – I never really though I’d make 10 Tour de France starts, that’s for sure,” Renshaw said.
“I missed one there with a broken collarbone, so I’ve missed one year, but other than that I’ve been here every year. I’m not really after so many starts or things like that, for me it’s about trying to perform at the highest level.”
This year over the 21 stages of the Tour de France, Renshaw faces eight flat legs, six days in the mountains, a team time trial and individual time trial. Should he make it to the finish line in Paris on July 29, he will have covered 3,229 kilometres.
Yet the prospect of testing himself on a gruelling course against the best professional road cyclists in the world is not something that excites Renshaw.
“It’s not really excitement, it’s not something I get excited about because there is a lot of pressure,” he revealed.
“It’s hard to explain that it’s not something I get excited for, I love the Tour de France and love cycling, but with the pressure, it’s bloody hard.
“One you get in there and start it and can get some success, then you have a chance to enjoy it.
“But until you have some success and get started, it’s a little bit intimidating Tour de France because it’s the biggest race, the best riders and the most pressure.”
Renshaw’s task in the tour, other that trying to reach the finish, will be to promote the chances of his Dimension Data team-mate Mark Cavendish in the flat stages.
He will try and weave a way to the front of the peloton as the finish line looms with Cavendish on his wheel, then watch as the talented Isle of Man sprinter launches in the final metres.
Cavendish has won 30 Tour de France stages – a tally that only former Belgian star Eddie Merckx (34) exceeds.
It is no secret Cavendish would love to better Merckx and with the opening stage from Noirmoutier-En-L'Ïle to Fontenay-Le-Comte one for the sprinters, he could also find himself in the leader’s yellow jersey.
“He’s [Cavendish] been the most prolific winner and he’s after that record now, so there’s big pressure to do something,” Renshaw said.
“Of course him winning really depends on the team, we set him up because he can’t win on his own.”
This year there will be less riders in the peloton with teams cut from nine riders to eight. But Renshaw’s Dimension Data outfit will feel the impact of that decision less than others given their focus is to try and win stages rather than push for overall honours in one of the classifications.
“Definitely we are going to miss that extra rider, but we’ve just bought that same team for the sprints that we’d normally bring. We are probably just missing one climber type rider, so it’s not going to be too big a difference for us in the sprints, we’ve still got a lot of horsepower,” he said.
“We’ve got a good team, at the moment everyone is fit and healthy, so we’ve just got to cross our fingers.”