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Confidence growing after his impressive solo win in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Peter Kennaugh is gunning to step up a level this season and sees the Classics as a logical goal.
“I would really like to figure in the Ardennes,” he said after his race victory on Sunday. “Those races obviously suit my characteristics, like today’s race did. Something like Liège, when it is really tough in the back end of the race. I would hope to have good form there.”
The 26 year old is regarded by many within British Cycling as one of its most talented young riders. Kennaugh won the national road race championships in 2014 and 2015, and also took both the Settimana Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali and the Tour of Austria in 2014.
In addition to those results, he was victorious on stage one of last year’s Critérium du Dauphiné.
While Sky has won three Tours de France in the past four years, it is still aiming to take its first Classic. He would like to be part of that push this season and, while taking the maiden win himself is the best-case scenario for him, he also doesn’t want to presume anything.
“It’s a bit of a different ballgame to this race,” he said, referring again to Sunday’s win.
“You have got obviously the distance, and I have never even finished an Ardennes Classic, just because I haven’t really put it together. I have always been injured or sick or something.
“That is the first step, and the second step is being in good condition when you arrive at the finish.”
So, no bigging himself up beforehand, but he also acknowledges the huge collective firepower that his team has.
“You have got Kwiatkowski, Lars Petter Nordhaug, Sergio Henao. Obviously you put my name in the hat and I think we have got an amazing team. In those kind of races it won’t be riding in one line for one guy, and I think that is what will be exciting.”
January win puts him well ahead of schedule
Kennaugh has been in Australia since early January, training there prior to the Santos Tour Down Under and Sunday’s race. He feels that block of warm-weather training and racing has put him ahead of where he would otherwise be.
In fact, considering his weekend win, he is confident that he is hitting form a lot earlier than other seasons.
“I have always been the kind of rider who takes quite a long time to get into the season, never really getting results until June, July. So to start off like this is what I want to be doing,” he explained.
“I want to be that rider in the team where they can look to me to lead races and have opportunities, not just another rider.
“I think it is good for my morale and my motivation. Just good to prove to people that I am not just messing around.”
Stepping up a level is, he knows, something that will depend on his form. He’s worked in a more structured way in recent months in order to ensure that he physically ready, and is excited that he is now seeing the fruits of that.
“I have been working with my brother Tim Kennaugh. He has been coaching me since November,” he stated. “He has been working closely with Rod Ellingworth.
“It is the first winter where I have had real structure to my training. It has helped massively, seeing that final ten kilometres when I was just able to hold that pace. I would never have been able to do that two years ago.”
Of course, being able to chase results will depend on more than just his legs. He will also need to get a green light from Team Sky in races, and knows that winning makes this more likely.
“Sometimes you can get a bit lost in the sport”
Until now Kennaugh has often found himself working for others in the team, including Tour de France winner Chris Froome and former team-mate Richie Porte.
He may find himself playing backup to Froome in the upcoming Herald Sun Tour, although this will depend on the older rider’s form.
Beyond that, he is increasingly motivated by the thoughts of taking his own chances. Victories such as his Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race reenergise him and give him more self belief. The showing should also increase the prospects of being a protected rider.
“It is amazing. Just the feeling of being able to race properly for myself,” he said. “That is why I do it. Domestique work is great and rewarding, but sometimes you can get a bit lost in the sport and why you were doing it in the first place.
“When you think back to when you were juniors and under 23s and when you used to go to every race, it wasn’t so business-like. It wasn’t, ‘you have to be here at this point of the race, you have to be there at that point of the race.’ You just jumped on your bike, cracked on…if you are at the front you are at the front. Then you just race.
“That is what I am best at…when I am just left to my own devices. I can just get on with it. I think coming to these kind of races, you have to make the most of the opportunities so when you go to the bigger races then can you have a bit more of a free role.”