Peter Kennaugh in ‘the form of his life’ ahead of Vuelta a España

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It’s been a year of ups and downs for Peter Kennaugh. He started with a bang, winning the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in style and he followed that up with a fine ride at the Herald Sun Tour, but a crash at the Tour of California in the middle of May turned his season upside down.

The Manxman broke his collarbone, ruling him out of the Tour de Suisse and, after a lot of deliberating, the Olympic Road Race. Now though, three months on, Kennaugh told that he feels as good as ever after a long block of training and he can’t wait to get started at the Vuelta a Espana.

With the loss of Mikel Landa in the week leading up to the Spanish Grand Tour there will be more onus on Kennaugh to perform alongside team leader Chris Froome, and it’s a role that the 27 year old tells he is relishing at a race he loves.

TeamSky.com caught up with the two-time British road race champion just after the team had got back from recceing the stage one team time trial for a wide-ranging chat to reflect on his tumultuous 2016.

“The course is pretty straightforward to be honest. It’s not too technical, there’s a few lumps in it, but there’s nothing so severe. It’s quite a long one, so teams will have to pace it, and make sure they don’t blow. It’s quite easy to go off hard in a 30km team time trial and then blow towards the end but we’re looking good and hopefully we can do a half decent ride.

“Since doing my collarbone in May I’ve counted nine weeks of full training now, with the Tour of Poland and [Vuelta a] Burgos in there as well, and everything is coming together at the right time. I’m really strong – probably the best I’ve ever felt really. I’m climbing well, my efforts have gone really well in training leading up to the race, and since Burgos I’ve done a hard training block in the mountains. Over the last couple of days I’ve been freshening up and I can’t wait to get going now.”

The Tour of Poland was a fairly wild race, with dreadful weather conditions

“It was especially wild for me coming back from the broken collarbone. When you’re coming back from a crash you’re a bit nervous anyway, but then being in a crazy peloton with crazy finishing circuits in the wet… well, the first couple of days weren’t the nicest! But it was good to get used to racing in a bunch again and towards the end of the race it was nice to feel the confidence coming back. It was a good race to get seven days of long stages under my belt and that then gave me the platform to do a little more training and rest up, then the form really started to come from Burgos which was good for the confidence,” he said.

Burgos clearly went well, with a strong performance on the queen stage setting Kennaugh up for fifth overall.

“I felt pretty good each day and recovered really well after it, so it was nice to come out of it really strongly, which I was quite surprised about really, having not raced so much over the past couple of months. It feels like everything has come together at the right time.

The crash at the Tour of California seemed came at a really bad time and then Kennaugh made the decision to step down from the Olympic road race team.

“The crash didn’t come at the best time. I started the season well and then had a dodgy April – I always seem to have a poor April for some reason, I can never get into good shape – but then coming into May I was starting to feel really good again at California and looking forward to the Tour de Suisse and the Olympics – but obviously it wasn’t to be. You don’t know what’s round the corner in cycling. You have to take it as it comes.

“I had a couple of weeks at home after my operation and it was the first time I’d been home for the [Isle of Man] TT races in a few years, so it was really nice to be normal and get involved with that for a few weeks, and make the most of being injured. Obviously the Olympics was in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t like it was set in stone I was going to go. It was dependent on my recovery. If I wasn’t going to be ready in time I was never going to go for the sake of going. Also with my goals further on in the season, like the Vuelta and Burgos, it would have been detrimental to go there and do half the road race. I would have lost two weeks of training and racing, so for me it was the right decision leading into the Vuelta and the Italian one-day races at the end of the season, which are also a little mini goal of mine. It wasn’t like 2012, where I had prepared for two or three years on the track and I was pysched up to try and get the gold medal there – it was a totally different story, so mentally pulling out was OK to take.”

Kennaugh enjoyed watching the men’s pursuit team retain the gold they won in 2012.

“It’s incredible. Every four years they’re always on the money. And everyone always questions how they go so well at the Olympics, but the four years leading into it, nobody is really in top form. The amount of extra training camps and effort they’ve put in to the Games is completely different to the Worlds, everyone comes up a level, and I think half the reason why the Australians are so much better for the rest of the year is because all the World Cups and the Worlds are held in their summer. They’re all at home training in the heat and they’re all flying, compared to zero degrees and rain in Manchester. It’s so much easier to be fit and on form when you’ve got that Australian summer in your legs. So I think that’s why the GB lads always raise their game – it’s their summer and they’re probably a bit fresher as well.

“The training can be a little monotonous in the build up towards the team pursuit, but I don’t think there’s anything better than a team pursuit race. The final was fantastic. The Aussies always raise their game when they’ve got a race on their hands. You could see straight away in the final that they weren’t riding to a schedule, they were just trying to beat GB, and I always thought they might blow because of the times they had recorded in the qualifiers. I didn’t think they could go that much faster [in the final] and hold on, they were on for four seconds quicker than they’d gone in the qualifiers, but they almost did it and it made for an amazing race. Some people asked me was it hard to watch and it wasn’t, but there was a little wish-I-was-there kind of feeling. But all the racing has been incredible to watch, particularly the omnium with Cav [Mark Cavendish] and Elia [Viviani], that was incredible as well.

“Surprisingly, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about it here. In the UK, with it being constantly on and dominating the news, everyone is so sucked into it all – it’s almost constant. Any little story at the Olympics becomes a massive story. Yet last week, when I was training in the mountains in France, I hardly saw any of it. So it was nice to be home and sucked into it for a few days.”

“This will be Kennaugh’s third Vuelta a Espana.

“A Grand Tour is a long race. The first one you do you’re nervous about it being so long, the unknown, but it’s my seventh year as a pro now and I’ve got to the point, not where I underestimate them, but I turn up like it’s any other race. To be honest it’s quite nice, a bit less stressful, and because you’ve been there and done it before you know what to expect a little more. The first Grand Tours you do you’re always thinking ‘save a little energy in the first week’ and all that sort of stuff, but it’s got to the point now where I just take each day as it comes. I try not to think too much down the line and concentrate on what our goal is going into each day.”

Kennaugh has ridden all three Grand Tours: the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana.

“Every stage has got some form of climb in it at the the Vuelta, which is quite different. The terrain at the Giro is so twisty, left-right, going through small villages all the time across really tough terrain. The Tour is more straightforward, there’s a lot more big, straight roads, but then there’s the stress that comes with the media attention and the fans that can be so overwhelming. That almost takes more energy out of you than the race, which I think is what makes it so hard in itself. It’s so much tougher mentally than any of the other two.

“But back to the Vuelta: I love the race. There’s usually good weather every day, it comes at that time of the season when a few guys are starting to come off it and you can really concentrate on the race. I always find myself in pretty decent form and really enjoy riding.

Sadly Mikel Landa was forced to pull out of the Vuelta this week due to injury.

“It’s a really great shame. He was going in as back-up GC which would have been great for him after the Giro didn’t work out and he would have been a huge help for Froomey, but I’m looking forward to stepping up and taking on that extra responsibility and pressure. I can’t wait to get started,” Kennaugj said.

Chris Froome is attempting to win the Vuelta on the back of winning a bronze medal at the Olympics and the Tour de France.

“For me to comprehend what he does as a rider… I just can’t. It’s not even just the Tour, then the Olympics, then the Vuelta, it’s everything that goes into the Tour beforehand. From November he’s relentless in his training and preparation for the Tour, then to go to the Olympics, have perhaps just three days at home, then here he is again, starting another Grand Tour. It’s incredible. The mental strength it takes to be away from home, the commitment to be away from your family and to stay in that top shape with the diet and everything else… But if there’s one guy who loves it and can pull it off, it’s definitely Froomey. The team here is 100% behind him. It’s going to be an interesting first week – the climbs are a bit shorter and a bit punchier, so it will be a case of making sure he doesn’t lose any time there, that will be the first mental battle, and once we get to the second and third week I’m sure he’ll really start to shine. It should be a good three weeks I reckon.”

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