When Mark Cavendish signed for Astana Qazaqstan, much was made of the last-minute contracting of Dutch sprinter Cees Bol to work as a lead-out man for the Briton in the Kazakh team. However Astana Qazaqstan also have a second option for that role, as became clear in the recent Tour of Oman where Estonia’s Martin Laas worked as a lead-out man for Cavendish.
Bol will be the man minding Cavendish in the bunch sprints at the UAE Tour next week and as such will likely remain the plan A for Astana Qazaqstan’s incipient sprint train. But Laas hopes to be back with Cavendish down the line at some unspecified races later this year.
Formerly with Bora-Hansgrohe, Laas said that when he signed with Astana, he had no idea Cavendish would later end up joining. But he had no objection to his job description changing dramatically in the last couple of months.
“When I signed, all the rumours said that Mark would normally be going with B&B. But I’m proud to be in the team to lead out Mark and make as much of it as I can, even if leading out and sprinting are completely different games,” Laas pointed out.
Laas isn’t going to be locked into one specific duty in Astana just because of Cavendish’s arrival.
“I have different roles in some races. Maybe I will get an opportunity in some races, in others more as a lead-out for Gleb Syritsa or Cavendish,” he explained.
“Basically, I’d like to help the team as much as possible in the lead-outs and support in this way but also get opportunities in the race too, because for sure I want to win as well.”
Laas gained much of his experience in riding as a lead-out man in Bora-Hansgrohe, where he racked up the biggest of his 14 wins to date, a stage of the Arctic Tour of Norway in 2021.
He knows that leading out a sprint and sprinting for victory are very different.
“If you are a sprinter you just need to save energy, save, save and save – and then just launch in the last 200 metres,” he explained.
“If you’re a lead-out man, then you always need to think about your sprinter and always need to think a few steps ahead. Plus if I pass through the peloton I need to make room for Mark behind as well.”
“It’s not totally different, but you always have to remember that what’s important for you is not actually what’s best for you: it’s what’s best for the sprinter.”
Each sprinter has their own attitude to the final metres of a race, Laas points out, and the more a lead-out man and a sprinter race…
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