HE was off the pace, but for Mark Renshaw simply finishing the fifth stage of the Tour de France – the toughest of the 105th edition of the cycling thus far – was a box ticked.
After three flat stages and a team time trial over the opening four days, the 204.5 kilometre leg from Lorient to Quimper included five categorised climbs as well as narrow roads.
It meant it was not suited to a pure sprinter like Renshaw’s Dimension Data team-mate Mark Cavendish, with the duo finishing 20 minutes, 56 seconds behind stage winner Peter Sagan.
Dimension Data still had its positives with Julien Vermote getting in the day’s six-rider breakaway, while Edvald Boasson Hagen opened up the uphill sprint to the finish line before the testing gradient saw his effort fade.
“The last kilometre was just too steep for me. I was actually in a good position but I just didn’t have the legs,” Boasson Hagen said.
“In general though I was feeling pretty good.”
While Cavendish struggled at times during the undulating stage, dropped by the peloton on the climbs before working his way back on the descents, Renshaw knows he can not be dismissed.
“When you back him into a corner, that’s when he fights the hardest,” the Bathurst talent said of his long-time team-mate.
Dimension Data’s manager Doug Ryder also has faith that Cavendish – winner of 30 Tour de France stages – can find himself in the mix for sprint finishes as the tour unfolds.
“He's a champion and you don't write off a champion,” Ryder said.
“He's earned that status and he's living it. You never kick a dog when its down, or it will bite you. I think Mark’s got it mentally and hopefully as he gets through this race, he can get better and better.
“He’s leaner than he has been for a while and looks good. He’s just lacking a little bit at the moment. But we believe in him and hope that feels that energy coming through.”
The next chance for Renshaw to try and set up a stage win for Cavendish will come on stage seven, a 231km leg from Fougères to Chartres. It has just one category four climb on route.