May I preface this interview by saying that Mark Renshaw, a professional cyclist and gold medalist spoke lovingly about his wife Kristina; who is an integral partner running many of the operations in Renshaw’s Pedal Project which they opened together earlier this year.
As well as juggling many facets of the business, Mark shares with me that Kristina has mothered three children, and given birth in different countries, speaking other languages and travelled back and forth between Australia and Europe over 16 years. For all of the parents reading this who also know what it is like to parent alone for weeks and sometimes months; Kristina has also managed this without family to help at times and Mark says without a doubt, she is the strongest woman he knows. What a winning team!
Tell us a little about yourself and your family?
I’ve recently retired as a professional cyclist after 16 years on the UCI World Tour, racing in events like the Tour de France. During my time in Europe I lived in Monaco, on the Côte d’Azur, with my wife, Kristina, and our three children: Will (8), Olly (4) and Maggie (1). We moved back to Bathurst at the start of the year and opened Renshaw’s Pedal Project, to grow cycling in the central west.
What age did you start cycling and how did you end up cycling on the Champs-Élysées in the Tour de France?
I started cycling at the age of 10, riding on a bitumen flat track with the other kids in the Bathurst Cycling Club. I was on a BMX until Mum and Dad organised with the club for them to loan me my first track bike. It had a bright pink frame and probably wasn’t the coolest looking machine, but I was stoked to be riding something half decent!
I worked my way up the levels of competition as a teenager, from the local ranks to the national stage and eventually international track events like the Commonwealth Games and World Championships. By the time I was 21, I’d switched over to road racing and was competing against the best cyclists in the world at events like the Tour de France.
The Champs-Élysées is the grand finale of Le Tour, at the finish of the final stage into Paris. It’s viewed as a world championship for sprinters. It’s an incredible experience, racing over the cobblestones with thousands of fans cheering you on. But after three weeks of hard racing, just making it to the end is a massive achievement in itself.
How many years were you in France for, and what was your role on the team and what did it teach you?
I lived in France and Monaco for 16 years, representing a few different teams. I spent most of my career as a lead-out man, helping the team leader get the victory. My job was to save myself until the final kilometres of the race, protect the sprinter, and put him in the best possible position to win with 100 or 200 metres to go.
Being a lead-out rider teaches you a lot about teamwork, which might surprise some people. Cycling is a team sport where individuals win, but without a strong team it’s very hard for a cyclist to achieve much success. I also learned a lot about leadership and how to manage athletes, as towards the end of my career I was mentoring a lot of younger cyclists. It was my job to teach them different skills and help them climb up the ranks.
What do you talk about when you are on the road for 220 km in a single day with riders from 15 different countries?
It sounds like a lot, but honestly 220km goes by pretty quickly when you’re on the bike. A stage might take us six or seven hours, but you spend a lot of that time just focused on doing your job. You have to be especially switched on at the start and finish of each stage, when a lot of the attacks are happening, or you can be caught out.
When you’re not riding at full speed, it’s great to have a few laughs. In the middle of each stage you usually get some time to chat with your teammates and catch up with old friends who are racing with the other teams.
The peloton has riders from all around the world so understanding different languages can be challenging. Fortunately, many cyclists know enough to get by speaking three or four different languages. You also see a lot of incredible sights while you’re racing, which you’re sharing with the other riders. The beautiful scenery is a universal language.
As a guest commentator for the tour, what do you miss most about not being there?
The atmosphere at the Tour de France is what makes it such a special sporting event. I miss that buzz and the pressure of performing at the highest level.
I still get ‘racing heart’ when I watch the sprint finishes, as I put myself in the position of the riders on TV. During each stage of this year’s Tour de France, I was sitting on the couch in the SBS studio and feeling the butterflies in my stomach, along with that familiar rush of adrenaline. I miss being in those situations on the bike because the pressure is what forces you to be your best.
Tell us why you decided to return to Bathurst, Australia and did you ever think about doing something outside of cycling?
It was an easy decision to relocate back to Bathurst at the end of my career because I never completely left. Throughout my career, I came back to Bathurst for a few months at the end of every season. I grew up here, I’ve got my family and friends here, and I love the town. It’s always been a home for me.
There was one stage, at the end of my career, where I was pretty close to becoming a real estate agent, but I spoke with Kristina and we decided that it would be crazy for me to completely jump out of the sport I love. We made the decision to stay in cycling and create Renshaw’s Pedal Project. It was the right choice!
Tell us a bit about the Pedal Project and what do you hope to achieve in the Central West community? What could local government do to further support cyclists in the area?
The Pedal Project is our vision for cycling in the Bathurst area. We want to get more people riding bikes in the Central West because it’s a fantastic sport with great health benefits. We especially want to help more kids, women and elderly people get involved. We see the shop as a home for bike riders of all skill levels and disciplines.
Since opening the store this year, we’ve actually been helped by COVID with a massive spike in bike sales and repairs. Everyone I speak to is super keen about jumping on the health bandwagon, working on their fitness and getting out in nature after a tough lockdown. Cycling is the perfect solution!
As for what local government can do to further support cycling; I actually think Bathurst Regional Council are already doing a great job. There will always be a push to improve road safety, because the biggest fear people have about cycling are the cars on the road. It’s important to build harmony between cyclists and the other road users, and awareness campaigns can help with this.
Infrastructure is another key factor, with hard shoulders on roads for cyclists to use and good bike paths. But honestly, in Bathurst we’re very lucky to have a council that supports cycling and cycling events so well.
Cycling has always been a male dominated sport, a few of my girlfriends have recently taken up road cycling, however are a little concerned about safety; do you have any advice here for women taking up the sport?
Women’s cycling is a massive growth area for the sport. We’ve seen that firsthand over the last few months, with a big spike in sales of women’s bikes. Renshaw’s Pedal Project is here to support women getting into cycling, with weekly group rides that leave from the shop, catering for women who are just starting out and who might need some guidance.
If I could give one piece of advice to people who are new to cycling, it would be to ride on quieter roads. It’s important to be selective about where you ride, avoiding the busier parts of town. It’s much better to pick back streets or country roads with a good shoulder, where you don’t have cars passing you closely at high speeds. It’s also good to be selective about the times that you ride, to miss peak-hour traffic.
And finally, it’s crucial to be well prepared. Go to your local bike shop to make sure you’ve got spare tubes etc and that your bike is in a safe working condition. The Pedal Project team are always happy to help on that front, with bike servicing and a friendly chat.
Are there any family focused bike tours you and the Pedal Project might be hosting in future?
A main focus of the shop at the moment is e-bikes, especially the mountain e-bike range. We’re putting together a demo program or five or sixs bikes that we’ll be promoting tours with, exploring local tracks at Rydal, Orange, Mudgee and Bathurst, to give everyone the experience of riding an e-bike and discovering how fun they can be.
For the road cyclists, we also do shop rides on Tuesdays and Thursdays, where our youngest participants are usually around 14 years old, riding with a parent or guardian. These rides are for cyclists of all levels, from beginners all the way up to advanced riders.
Check out Renshaw’s Pedal project here!