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School of sprinting

Who will be the new pace setters?

Richard Moore Posted 19th January 2012 view comments

A year ago I wrote a blog predicting that 2011 would tell us a lot about Andre Greipel, and whether he would cut it as a top class sprinter after emerging from the shadow of Mark Cavendish at HTC-Highroad by signing for Lotto.

Greipel was also out to prove that he could win without the formidable support offered by HTC. This was a team that churned out world class sprinters as though they were going out of fashion. Cavendish, Greipel, Matt Goss, John Degenkolb: all are alumni of the Highroad School of Sprinting.

Mark Renshaw: lead-out man par excellence

Mark Renshaw: lead-out man par excellence

And then there is Mark Renshaw. For him, even more than Greipel in 2011, this is a huge year. Having acted as Cavendish's lead-out man par excellence the last few seasons, he is striking out with Rabobank to see what he can do as a sprinter in his own right.

Risks and rewards

It's a scenario similar to the member of a successful band embarking on a solo career (though think rhythm section rather than front man). The rewards are potentially enormous. But so are the risks. The question is -- if you'll excuse the dated reference -- will Renshaw turn out to be a George Michael or an Andrew Ridgely?

It's a scenario similar to the member of a successful band embarking on a solo career (though think rhythm section rather than front man). The rewards are potentially enormous. But so are the risks. The question is -- if you'll excuse the dated reference -- will Renshaw turn out to be a George Michael or an Andrew Ridgely?

Richard Moore
Quotes of the week

Greipel, when he struck out alone, was a little different, since he was an established winner. But year's statistics suggested that he wasn't half the sprinter with Lotto as he was with his old team. Greipel won eight races in 2011, compared to 21 the previous year. That seems pretty clear-cut, and leads to the conclusion that here is a rider who owed a lot of his wins to the HTC machine. Without his old team, he wasn't the same rider.

But hold that thought. Because his old lead-out man, Greg Henderson, has left Sky to link up once again with Greipel at Lotto-Belisol, who suddenly look more than capable of organising a decent lead-out. At the time of writing, Greipel is almost half-way to equalling last year's tally of wins, with three in the first week of the season in Australia.

The first came in the Down Under Classic on Sunday, after a well-drilled Lotto lead-out, the second followed 48 hours later on stage one of the Tour Down Under, and the third came on Thursday, at the end of stage three. Currently, his record in bunch sprints this season is 100%.

Renshaw was 4th on Thursday, while another HTC alumnus, Goss, also riding the Tour Down Under, seems to be keeping his powder dry for a defence of his Milan-San Remo title in late March.

How all these sprinters fare -- not forgetting Cavendish and Degenkolb -- will be one of the season's most interesting subplots.

But the most significant development is the disappearance of their old squad. No team in the sport's history has dominated bunch sprints to the extent that HTC-Highroad did between 2008 and 2011. In fact, Greipel's greatest difficulty last year might have been taking them on. With HTC gone, there is a vacancy. Or perhaps it's more accurately described as a vacuum, since I'm not sure any team can replace them.

Twitter.com/richardmoore73

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