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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

An interview with Mark Renshaw, December 9, 2003

The Graduate

The Graduate: Mark Renshaw
Photo ©: Tom Balks

New South Wales rider Mark Renshaw has become the first graduate of the innovative FDJeux.com/NSW Institute of Sport development program, making the leap from amateur to contracted first year pro. Karen Forman talks to the graduate and asks team manager Rodney McGee about what's next for the squad young Renshaw is leaving behind.

It was the moment 21 year-old Bathurst rider Mark Renshaw had always dreamed of but never believed would happen. The moment when a professional team director approaches and offers you a contract with his team.

And it wasn't just any pro team, but a Division 1 French team. As far as Renshaw was concerned, it was THE team - FdJeux.com, the team that had sponsored the FdJ/NSWIS development program aimed at developing young Australian riders and act as a feeder to the main team. The offer came from the team's director sportif, Marc Madiot, with the contract for two years, meaning that he doesn't have to worry about scratching out a living to fund his cycling. From now on, he will be making his living from cycling.

The young rider had not only achieved his personal goal to ride professionally, but had also, unwittingly, become the first graduate to make the leap.

It's history-making stuff for cycling, where no other relationship between a pro team in one country and a development squad in another exists, and a dream come true for a rider who says he has had "pretty much an awesome year on the road" and "can't wait to get over there and be one of the riders I had only ever read about." Not a bad early Christmas present.

"I know with a lot more work, one day I could get to the calibre of sprinters like Cookie, Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady."

- Mark Renshaw about his aspirations for the future with FDJeux.com

"I have achieved some good results which I hadn't really planned upon," Renshaw tells Cyclingnews. "It's pretty awesome actually."

How does he feel about making France his home for the next nine months and racing among the best in the world? "I feel good; really confident," he says. "I am looking forwarding to having a good year."

From track...
Photo ©: Tom Balks
... to road
Photo ©: Tom Balks

Renshaw says he knows moving to France to ride with a professional team is a "big step", particularly after riding with the amateur club SCO Dijon for a month this season. The club is run by Mr Lapierre, who provides Lapierre bicycles to both FDJeux.com and the development squad in Australia.

But he's not letting it go to his head. "I was pretty much in peak fitness in September on the road and after the track world's, I was top 10 in two races I did. I know with a lot more work, one day I could try to get to the calibre of the Australian sprinters, like [FDJeux.com team-mate Baden] Cookie, Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady, but that's still a few years away."

Still, Renshaw says that's the good thing about the way the joint FDJeux.com/New South Wales Institute of Sport junior development program has been set up.

"It has given guys like me a good opportunity for international racing," he says. "Like, everyone on the program pretty much goes overseas, either with FDJ/NSWIS or with the under 21 and 23 national squads."

Renshaw is predicting his first year will go quickly, with the Olympics mid-year. "I am training to do the qualifying time for the teams pursuit and the madison," he says. "My goal is to do the point score and the madison at the Olympic Games."

And what about the other side of living overseas - the language barrier? "Thanks to my stagiaire role, I can already speak French enough to get around," he says. "All cycling talk is okay, but if strangers talk to me, I am stuffed!" Riding with Australian Ben Johnson helped, he says, but was also "bad because French rules said you couldn't have two foreigners in the same race, so we couldn't race in the same events."

Proof in the pudding as new squad is announced

Trial by fire: Kieran gets his chance in France

Trial by fire for Kieran Cameron
Photo ©: Karen Foreman

Kieran Cameron first came to the attention of the media around 10 years ago, when his family of eight (parents Sue and Gary and their five siblings) were all racing on the track in northern New South Wales.

The local regional daily newspaper ran a story about the "Cycling Camerons" and a photograph of all eight, their bikes and assorted accessories… including the huge van they needed to cart everything and everybody around in.

As they raced on the flat 400-metre bitumen Coffs Harbour track and attended various other track nights in neighbouring towns, the Camerons were cited as a great example of "the family that plays together, stays together".

While the kids raced, Sue and Gary were hard workers behind the scenes as well, putting a lot into the local cycling club.

But then everybody grew up. Fast forward a decade and only Kieran, now 21, is still racing. His siblings, he says, "found other things to do".

Having completed a panel beating apprenticeship and left the North Coast behind to move to Sydney to further his cycling career, his fifth place in this year's Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic, known as Australia's biggest one-day stage race, really showed what he is made of.

"It was…hard," he says with a wry grin. "That hill [the Gibraltar Range] is pretty steep". But it was his first result in international company and the beginning of the realisation of a long-held dream.

Cameron has been working at the Handlebar Tavern at Sydney's Dunc Gray Velodrome to fund his cycling lifestyle and says all he wants to do "is ride my bike." And now, after racing with the FDJeux.com/NSWIS junior development team, comes the most promising move yet: an offer to ride with the French amateur club SCO Dijon for six months, starting February, 2004.

Kieran is the second young Australian cyclist to join SCO Dijon. His long-time friend Mark Renshaw, with whom he has raced with since the age 13, spent a season with the team this year and has now been signed to join FDJeux.com next season as a first-year pro.

"It's pretty good to be going after Mark," Cameron says. "Hopefully it will lead to me being able to turn pro in France, maybe in 2005."

FDJeux.com seventh-year pro and development squad founder, Brad McGee, is justifiably proud of Renshaw's move. "It's proof that the program is working," he says. "And it was great that Mark went to SCO Dijon his year, just like Kieran Cameron is going this year. It's a great lead-up to getting a contract on the team."

McGee, who says he formed the relationship "because I could", said the main goal is to create an Australian professional team. "I see this as a starting block," he says.

FdJeux.com gives the squad $100,000 a year, which is combined with the NSWIS budget for training and racing, as well as providing the same bicycles, clothing and accessories that the professional riders in France receive. The bikes are Lapierre, with Shimano groups, ITM stems and bars, Selle Italia saddles and Michelin tyres.

The team's director of logistics, Fabrice Vanoli, arrived in Australia last week to deliver the equipment and meet the new riders. The new season's team will comprise Kieran Cameron, Ashley Humbert, Chris Sutton, David Tanner and Richard Moffatt. Humbert, who was to be the squad's first stagiaire at SCO Dijon, has recently recovered from the bout of viral meningitis that allowed Renshaw to go to France instead, and according to Brad's older brother and team manager, Rodney McGee, is now fit and on track to race in Europe.

Where to from here?

Rod McGee in the kitchen
Photo ©: Karen Foreman

Rodney McGee says the squad is probably ahead of where he expected it to be less than two years after its formation. "Everything usually goes up and down and not to plan in cycling, but so far, all is going well," he says.

"Obviously having Mark Renshaw making the leap to FdJ is a huge thing. We did have Ashley Humbert ready for a stagiaire contract a year ago, but then the day his papers arrived for the position, he was diagnosed, which was a huge disappointment. Now we have Mark going across and now we mightn't have another for two years, but I have to emphasise that it's not a rush. Our goal is just to make sure they are ready when the opportunity arises."

McGee says all the team members will be heading overseas this year, either to Dijon with the under 23 and under 21 national squads, or to other amateur teams: "At the moment, I am working on pre-season preparation for them, both on and off the bike," he says. "I am hoping that when they all come back to Australia we might have a Sun Tour team, but possibly they are a bit young for this year."

Working with the squad has been a dynamic experience for Rod, who says his job is a far cry from being a builder's labourer three years ago. "It's quite a change but very rewarding, even though this team is not based on getting results," he says. "Things like Kieran getting fifth in the Grafton to Inverell and of course, getting Mark up to FdJ.com."

He says, however, that it's difficult to prepare riders in Australia for Europe. "It's being able to read a race as far as teamwork goes," he says, "I think that's lacking in Australia."

Rod gives his brother full credit for the formation of the squad, saying "that money is basically coming out of Brad's own pocket, as he could have negotiated to receive it himself."

"It's the first program like this in the world, where a pro team puts money into a development squad." But Brad McGee is modest, saying he's just glad to be able to put something back into the sport that "has been good to me".

A former Australian Institute of Sport track rider, 27 year-old McGee says he never considered being a professional road rider until he was courted by FDJeux.com, who "made me an offer I couldn't refuse". Since then, his career highlights have been two stage wins and the yellow jersey at the Tour de France (including the prologue at this year's Tour), a gold medal in the individual pursuit at the 2002 World Track Championships and a bronze medal in the pursuit at the Sydney Olympic Games.

Photos from the FDJeux.com/NSW Institute of Sport training camp

Images by Karen Foreman

See also: FDJeux.com/NSWIS training camp: Getting ready for 2004 in an ideal setting; October 2003 interview with Baden Cooke: Cooke's travails; 2003 Tour de France interview with Baden Cooke: Bring on the Champs Elysées
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