Yep, that’s the headline that dropped into our inboxes and also made us gasp. “Mark Renshaw to join Astana Qazaqstan team for coming Tour de France”.
He won’t be returning as a rider though, obviously, three years retired and now 40 years old. Instead, he’ll be joining the WorldTour outfit as a sprint and lead-out consultant. Dial the clock back one year and this news would make little sense. Why are Astana suddenly concerned with having their sprinting on point?
Well, since then they’ve lost the too hot to handle Miguel Ángel López and pivoted to becoming a last chance saloon for Mark Cavendish as he rounds out a glittering career with one last gambit at a record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage win.
Renshaw and Cavendish are old teammates, the former leading out the latter to many of his Tour stage victories. Even though Astana Qazaqstan are yet to unveil their eight-man squad for France, they don’t possess the sort of lead-out services that Cavendish has benefitted from previously in his career. The Dutch sprinter Cees Bol being the closest thing the Kazakh squad has to someone to rely on in the bunch sprint finales, having traditionally been a squad focused on winning uphill races.
“I am really thrilled to return to the Tour de France with Astana Qazaqstan Team and Mark Cavendish as a sprint and lead-out consultant,” Renshaw said in the announcement. “After discussing the possibility to join Astana Qazaqstan Team with Alexandr Vinokurov and my ex-teammate Dmitriy Fofonov, I am really looking forward to bringing my skillset to help the team chase success. Our goal is to secure victories in the sprint stages, and I am eager to share my knowledge and experience gained as a lead-out rider and teammate of Mark Cavendish.
“Mark’s recent victory in the Giro d’Italia is proof that he still possesses the speed, power, and determination needed to win Grand Tour stages,” Renshaw continued. “With the support of Astana Qazaqstan Team and the talented riders selected for the race, I am confident that he has what it takes to win in this year’s Tour de France. I cancelled other jobs in July which shows my confidence in him. As we prepare for the important sprint stages, I am excited to work with the team’s Sports Directors to develop effective tactics and strategies, analyzing and breaking down sprint stages is something I absolutely love to do.
“Mark’s career is already a big success, but I am excited to have the opportunity to help Mark finish his career on an absolute high and chase his 35th victory in the Grand Boucle.”
What can we glean from all of this? It’s being stated on the record that Cavendish is going for the Tour stage win record – something he’s been cagey about previously, preferring to deflect questions on eclipsing Eddy Merckx, who the Manx sprinter is currently tied with on 34 wins.
There’s also the point that Cavendish has felt the need to bring in extra support. He won a stage at the recent Giro but the Tour is another level up. Especially with a vastly inferior lead-out operation, he will need all the help he can get.
On the same day as the Renshaw news broke, Bora-Hansgrohe announced 7 of their 8-rider line-up for the Tour, none of whom were Cavendish’s fellow sprinter and former teammate Sam Bennett. The German squad also said the last place would go to a climber, so it looks like Cavendish will have one fewer top sprint name to contest the flat finales against come July.
Elsewhere, Astana Qazaqstan also announced a new commercial partner for the Tour, a Kazakhstani stockbroker called Freedom Broker. Should the firm have paid up to be a title sponsor, we may need a trip to the optometrists on account of how far our eyes will have rolled into the back of our heads.
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