National road champion Peter Kennaugh still cannot justify Team Sky’s decision to leave him out of its Tour de France squad but is nevertheless ready to support Chris Froome at the Vuelta a Espana starting Saturday.
The Vuelta promises a thrilling general classification battle and has attracted equal billing to that of the Giro d’Italia and Tour this year with a start-list that includes Froome, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Kennaugh at the beginning of the year identified the Ardennes Classics and again supporting Froome at the Tour, not the Vuelta, as major goals of the season. However, neither went to plan.
“I don’t really know what happened around the Ardennes time. I was just tired and struggling for form even though I won that Coppi e Bartali race not long before,” the Manxman said.
“I had 10 days off and went back to the Isle of Man for a bit to chill out. I didn’t think a lot about cycling for a couple of weeks. I started to train again leading into Bayern Rundfahrt and since then it’s been pretty good really.”
The 25-year-old has been on an upward trajectory since June finishing 10th at Bayern-Rundfahrt, winning gold at the national titles and taking overall at the week-long Tour of Austria in which he never relinquished the leader’s jersey after winning the opening stage.
“I kind of knew I could go there and get some results for myself but I didn’t expect to win the overall,” Kennaugh said of Austria. “On the first day the meeting was really brief and it was almost like everyone had an opportunity. I remember Josh Edmondson on the bus saying, ‘if there is ever a course suited to you then this is it.’ I was a bit miffed that no one had actually said, ‘this would be a good one to work for Pete for.’
“Once we got on the road I sort of said I felt really good and I did. It was the first time I wore the national jersey as well so I think I had loads of morale from that and got the guys to commit towards me.”
Kennaugh said Sky informed him that he hadn’t been consistent enough to warrant Tour de France selection and so the Vuelta, which he last started as a neo-professional in 2010, will mark his first Grand Tour of the season.
The team is determined to salvage its Grand Tour campaign after failing to convert an opportunistic approach at the Giro and losing Froome to crash-related injuries during the first week of the Tour.
Kennaugh has undergone a two-week training block at altitude, which Mark Christian (Raleigh) joined for 10-days, in the lead-up to the Vuelta. He is hopeful of good form after that and solid performances in his last two road races being the Commonwealth Games, in which he finished eighth after an especially long solo escape, and Austria.
“It’s been really enjoyable getting the results on the bike. I’ve been really laid back and having a lot of fun with it, not putting too much pressure on myself, which I think is maybe where I went a bit wrong early season,” he said.
“Everyone on the team knows what Froomey can do and is capable of. We’ve got that at the back of our minds. You know it’s not going to be a case of riding around the back and going for the odd stage or whatever. We are going to have to have a good plan going into each day to protect him as much as possible for the GC.”