For 2013, I’m going to be following the fortunes of three former HTC-Highroad sprinters. As I did last year, I’ll be watching 2011 World Champion Mark Cavendish, now with Omega Pharma-Quick Step after his single season at Sky. I’ll also be keeping tabs on his former lead-out man extraordinaire Mark Renshaw, who struggled in 2012 to establish himself as a top sprinter in his own right, and Vuelta sprint sensation John Degenkolb.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)
2012 WorldTour ranking: 40th, 128 pts.
- Three stage wins at the Giro d’Italia.
- Three stage wins at the Tour de France.
- 1st overall at Ster ZLM Toer – his first career stage race victory.
- Won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
- Stage wins at the Tour of Britain (three), Tour of Qatar (two), Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of Denmark.
- Birth of daughter Delilah Grace in April.
Why I’m following him:
2012 was a relatively quiet year – a mere 19 wins! – for the man who spent the season proudly wearing the rainbow stripes of the reigning world champion. And yet he won three stages at both of the Grand Tours he contested – including a fourth consecutive victory on the Champs-Élysées – and came within a whisker of completing a full set of Grand Tour points jerseys at the Giro. His one major disappointment was missing out on the opportunity to win gold in front of a home crowd in the Olympics road race.
Regular readers will know I am an unabashed Cav fan, simply because he is the best finisher in the world on a flat stage – and would be at least in most people’s top three all-time. I love the way his competitive fire burns so brightly, I love how much he obviously cares about the sport and I love his ability – with or without a lead-out train – to almost always put himself in exactly the right position in the closing metres of a race from which to launch his final burst. He’s not just blazingly fast in his legs, but in his racer’s brain too. He was stymied somewhat by the focus on Bradley Wiggins at Sky last year, but I expect him to have no such issues at OPQS this time around. The Manx Missile is ready to fire once again – he will win and win often, especially when it counts in the biggest races.
Mark Renshaw (Blanco)
2012 WorldTour ranking: 103rd, 32 pts.
- One stage win at Tour of Turkey.
- 4th overall at Delta Tour Zeeland.
Why I’m following him:
2013 is likely to be a make-or-break season for the Aussie sprinter. Not just because 2012 – his first as a lead sprinter after building a reputation as the best lead-out man in the world – was a dismal year, with just one victory at the Tour of Turkey and a miserable set of performances at both the Giro and the Tour. But with Rabobank pulling out of team sponsorship, the entire roster of the rechristened Blanco squad are as good as in the shop window for 2014.
Renshaw faces a battle to establish himself as a protected sprinter – teammate Theo Bos had seven wins in 2012 – on a team which also boasts the all-round talents of Robert Gesink, Luis Leon Sanchez, Bauke Mollema, Laurens ten Dam and Sep Vanmarcke, and yet often falls short of the sum of their parts at major stage races. If he doesn’t establish himself in the season’s opening months, his career prospects will nose-dive and he could easily find himself back as a designated lead-out man next year. As such, we can be sure he will give everything from the moment the first pedal is turned in anger at the Tour Down Under to prove he can still be a top sprinter. I wouldn’t count against him this year – if Renshaw is anything, he is tough.
John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano)
2012 WorldTour ranking: N/A. 1st in UCI Europe Tour rankings, 596 pts.
- Five stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana.
- 1st overall at Tour de Picardie, two stage wins.
- Stage wins at Four Days of Dunkirk (two) and Tour of Poland.
- 4th at World Championships road race.
- One-day Classics: 4th at Paris-Tours, 5th at Milan-San Remo, 6th at E3 Harelbeke.
Why I’m following him:
Fast enough to win five sprints at the Vuelta and strong enough to notch up three top six placings in the Classics, Degenkolb learned his trade with HTC-Highroad and now forms half of a formidable German sprint double at Argos-Shimano alongside Marcel Kittel, who I followed last year. He may not be quite as powerful as compatriot Andre Greipel – yet – but he’s a better climber. Although last year’s Vuelta was missing the very top sprinters, his domination of the flat stages was mighty impressive. He also showed he can peak at just the right times of the season too, hitting a rich seam for the flatter spring Classics and then holding his outstanding autumn form post-Vuelta to achieve fourth place at both the Worlds and Paris-Tours.
Argos-Shimano lack a serious GC rider and are a team very much focussed on the sprints. As a wild-card entrant at both the Tour and Vuelta last year, they had one of the best lead-out trains in the peloton. Now with the added bonus of guaranteed entry to all WorldTour events, Degenkolb (and Kittel) should have more opportunities to rub shoulders with the big boys at major races. With the experienced and highly capable Koen de Kort and Tom Veelers to guide them through the closing kilometres of races, watch them fly in the pre-Ardennes Classics and on the roads of Italy, France and Spain. If he continues the trajectory of the past couple of years, Degenkolb will rack up a serious number of victories in 2013. I’ll be looking for him to lead the younger generation of sprinters into the top echelon and hasten the retirement of veterans such as Alessandro Petacchi.