Peter Kennaugh interview: "Until I can't give anymore, I'm going to keep pushing those boundaries" - Road Cycling UK

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Peter Kennaugh interview: “Until I can’t give anymore, I’m going to keep pushing those boundaries”

Team Sky's two-time British champion on the 2017 season, riding with Chris Froome and progress on the road

Team Sky’s Pete Kennaugh may only be 27, but the Manxman has packed a hell of a lot into his career as a professional cyclist – and promises he has plenty more to give.

If you measure cycling in four-year Olympic cycles, Kennaugh’s early pro career – joining Team Sky at the British WorldTour team’s inception inception in 2010 – was halfway through a journey which ultimately led to an Olympic team pursuit gold medal on the London 2012 track.

In the four years since then, it has been all about the road – a Tour de France debut came in 2013, followed by consecutive National Championship titles and then a promising, albeit injury-hit, 2016 campaign which leaves him full of confidence for the new season.

Pete Kennaugh wore the Vuelta a Espana’s red jersey in 2016, and hopes to recapture the form he showed in that race in 2017 (Pic: Sirotti)

Kennaugh reels off the list of his achievements on the road in that second four-year cycle with pride, swatting aside suggestions his career has plateaued after a blistering start.

This will be his eighth season with Team Sky, the only professional team he has ridden for – making him one of the four British riders, along with Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Ian stannard, to have remained with Sir Dave Brailsford’s team from the start.

And with his current contract up at the end of the season, Kennaugh is keen to prove what he can give for the team once the 2017 season gets underway.

“You get a lot of people asking what your goals are for the next season, but as a pro now – especially at Team Sky – you have to turn up to each race the best you can,” Kennaugh tells RCUK.

“Gone are the days where people would be 10kg overweight until May, work hard in June to get fit for the Tour and then you wouldn’t see them again until the next year.

“It’s a different sport now. You see people like Alejandro Valverde – he’s on top of his game throughout the season. Chris Froome’s exactly the same – he wants to win every race he goes to.”

Kennaugh had already started three Grand Tours when he won Olympic gold in 2012, and seemed destined for big things when he made a lasting impression on his Tour de France debut in 2013.

“As a pro now – especially at Team Sky – you have to turn up to each race the best you can”

It is, the Douglas-born rider admits, still one of the stand-out moments of his career, riding onto the Champs Elysees alongside yellow jersey Chris Froome, and following in the wheel tracks of cycling legends he had watched on TV growing up.

Kennaugh, then 24, earned rave reviews for his performances in the mountains and Rod Ellingworth, the former head of British Cycling’s famed Academy and Team Sky’s performance manager, even earmarked him as a future world champion.

Such lofty predictions may not have rung true, but Kennaugh is adamant his career has seen a steady progression since then, with more to come.

Pictures by SWpix.com - 10/04/2016 - Cycling - Isle of Man - England - Manx International Cycling GP – Round 2 British Cycling Motorpoint Spring Cup – Mens Race - Peter Kennaugh before the race
Peter Kennaugh, Luke Rowe, peloton, bunch, group, race, Team Sky (Pic: Alex Broadway/SWPix.com)
Peter Kennaugh, National Championships, Lincoln. victory, win, celebration (Pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com)

“I don’t think my career’s leveled off at all,” says Kennaugh. “If you look up until 2013, what did I do? On the road, all I’d done was ride the Tour de France – I’d not won a race.”

It is, of course, a valid retort. Twelve months later and Kennaugh had won five, taking a stage win and the overall title at both the Coppi e Bartali and Tour of Austria, alongside claiming the national champion’s jersey.

While in the jersey, he then went on to win his first WorldTour race – the opening stage of the 2015 Criterium du Dauphine – before earning a second year in the blue, white and red stripes of British champion a week later.

Last year started with more success as national champion, this time in Australia as Kennaugh won the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race before taking a stage win, and second overall behind team-mate Froome, at the Herald Sun Tour.

But for the broken collarbone that followed, and then an ill-timed injury at the Vuelta a Espana at the end of the year, we may well have been talking about a first top-ten Grand Tour finish for Kennaugh.

“[The broken collarbone] was annoying,” Kennaugh admits. “I worked really hard through December and that obviously showed in Australia. I carried it through OK to Tirreno-Adriatico, and had an unfortunate crash at Milan-San Remo having felt really good in that race.

“I came off it a bit after that, and was working my way back up when I got to California and obviously broke my collarbone.”

He nonchalantly shrugs it off, however, adding: “It was a bit disappointing but it’s part of the sport. It is what it is. I just worked towards the end of the year from there and it worked out really well.”

Indeed it did. Where one door shut, another opened – in this case the Vuelta a Espana – and it was Kennaugh’s form there which gives him the most confidence ahead of the 2017 season.

Kennaugh points to victories such as his stage win at the Criterium du Dauphine as evidence his career hasn’t plateaued (Pic: Sirotti)

After leading home Team Sky in the opening stage team time trial and pulling on the red leader’s jersey for the first time as a result, Kennaugh was well-placed overall before a series of unfortunate events curtailed his charge for the top ten on the same day Froome’s hopes of overall victory were also dismissed.

Kennaugh picks up the story. “It was the best Grand Tour I’ve ridden,” he says. “I was 15th, only a couple of minutes off the top ten, and then unfortunately got a really bad haemorrhoid.

“I had to have it literally operated on, sat on the bus before the stage – there was blood everywhere, it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, and that was the stage where it went full gas from the start and Froome lost all that time.”

Kennaugh was actually the last man home on that now infamous stage, where more than half of the peloton finished outside the time cut and were only allowed to continue at the race jury’s discretion.

“Unfortunately it panned out that way, but I was generally happy with my Vuelta, and I think I’ll be stronger this year,” Kennaugh says.

Kennaugh’s ‘best ever Grand Tour’ was disrupted by an unpleasant injury (Pic: Sirotti)

When we speak, the 27-year-old’s targets for the new season have not been outlined, though he was hoping for a crack at the Tour of California and other shorter stage races before another starting berth at the Vuelta.

Should he do so, it would be an eighth Grand Tour start and Kennaugh admits he has been on a steep learning curve in cycling’s three-week races.

“With Grand Tours, I used to mentally crack,” he admits. “With it being so intense, I’d just reach a certain point in the race and think ‘I’m not up for this today, I just want to get through and have a mental day off’.

“With Grand Tours, I used to mentally crack… as I’ve got older, I cope with things better”

“As I’ve got older – I don’t know if it’s experience – I cope with things better. Stage 12 is stage 12. Four years ago, I’d have thought ‘bloody hell, stage 12 – there’s still such a long way to go’, but now it’s just another stage.

“You start, you clock on, concentrate for the stage and then clock off. It’s easier to mentally digest now, I guess.”

Also set to target the Vuelta a Espana, once again, is Chris Froome, who will also bid for a third consecutive Tour de France win, and fourth in all.

Kennaugh is targeting a place at the Vuelta a Espana again. He could be racing as British champion for the third time in his career too, with the national championships being held in the Isle of Man this year (pic: Sirotti)

Froome has finished in the top two in seven of the last eight Grand Tours he has started, while only Mark Cavendish and Chris Boardman have more pro wins to their name on the all-time British list.

But, while Froome’s achievements on the road mark him as one of this generation’s finest riders, Kennaugh says there are no airs or graces when it comes to riding with the 31-year-old – another Team Sky mainstay since their 2010 inception.

“Froome’s Froome to us guys. He’s one of the lads, do you know what I mean?” Kennaugh says.

“That’s what makes him so great. He’s not a prima donna, he doesn’t put himself on a pedestal. He’s just so down to earth, so grounded, and you can speak to him like every other person.

“It makes him such an easy leader, and easy to be around. In turn, that makes you want to give everything to him.”

Where Froome really stands out, Kennaugh believes, is away from the public eye, and the work he does to prepare for races.

“I’ve talked about mentally handling stage races, but the training he does – that is on another level compared to what I do at the minute,” he adds.

While Froome is the obvious leader at Team Sky, Kennaugh’s experience, despite his comparatively young age, makes him one of the more senior figures in in the camp.

If neo-pro Owain Doull, who, like Kennaugh four years ago, is committing to the road after claiming Olympic team pursuit gold, wants inspiration, he needn’t look further than Kennaugh as a rider who has fully established himself with the team.

But the Manxman is keen to stress he too is still learning, and believes he is yet to reach his full potential.

With brother Tim on board as a coach since last year, the older of the two Kennaugh siblings believes he is still making progress in his training, learning not to attempt the same level of work as riders like Froome, but instead find what works best for him.

Kennaugh says Chris Froome is just ‘one of the lads’ and has no airs or graces about him (Pic: Sirotti)

“What I’ve had to learn is not one mould fits everyone,” Kennaugh admits. “If I train like Froome, I’d probably only be half the rider he is. I need to feel fresher at races [to get the most out of myself].

“It’s also learning, as you get older, what you need – you have to do what’s best for you, and not get sucked into trying to copy others.

“I think that’s where having my brother Tim coach me has helped in this last year. It’s someone out of Sky, so some different ideas and not getting sucked into what the other Sky riders are doing.”

“There will come a point when I realise I’ve reached my level, and that’s it, but at the moment I feel I’ve still got more I can give”

Kennaugh adds: “I’m still young myself. I’m only 27 and still have a lot to learn. I don’t know how much further I can progress. I’m just going to keep pushing it as far as I can.

“It comes down to enthusiasm and motivation. People retire in the mid-30s, so I’ve got eight years left. There will come a point when I realise I’ve reached my level, and that’s it, but at the moment I feel I’ve still got more I can give.

“Until I feel I reach a level where I can’t give anymore, I’m going to keep pushing those boundaries.”

Kennaugh insists he has plenty still to give on the road (Pic: Sirotti)

Another four-year cycle is underway, and while Kennaugh’s success is no longer measured by Olympic performance, by the time 2020 rolls around the upward trajectory of his career could well have reached the heights first suggested by Ellingworth back in 2013.

With a palmares already worth boasting about already, and a burning desire to achieve even more, 2017 could be a big year for Kennaugh.

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