Peter Kennaugh: Graduating with honours

Peter Kennaugh: Graduating with honours

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Peter Kennaugh: Graduating with honours

Story posted July 12 | By Larry Hickmott

Having followed the fortunes of the riders in the Great Britain Cycling Team’s Olympic Academy for Male endurance riders since it was a blueprint back in 2004 and the subsequent development of those academy riders, has shown that exceptional riders are out there in Britain and one of the latest is Peter Kennaugh.

Despite only being 20 years old, he has already finished on the podium twice in the British Road Race championships and recently finished third in the Baby Giro which is an ‘amateur’ race for under 27 year olds. Peter was a World Junior Champion on the track back in 2006 and since then has continued to progress towards his goal of being a professional rider in Europe.

Last year was his first in the Olympic Academy in Italy where young British riders eat, sleep and breathe cycle racing. In 2008, Peter and the rest of the academy including 2009 new professionals Ben Swift and Jonny Bellis, were under the guidance of Rod Ellingworth whose job it was to create the concept and implement it. This Rod did with great success and his graduates have gone on to win Olympic Gold medals on the track and stages in the Tour de France and great classics like Milan San Remo.

Under Rod’s guidance, it was a tough development regime when based here in Britain and in Italy, one that tested the passion of the riders to the limits because to be a success as a professional means more than just enjoying the lifestyle of being a pro bike rider. You need to be able to hurt yourself in races and dedicate yourself to being a success in one of the toughest, if not the toughest, sports in the world.

Peter Kennaugh has that passion, the need to win and when he doesn’t or anyone gets in his way and prevents him doing his thing in a race, watch out! In 2008, Peter had two victories in Italy and during the winter that followed, he had a tough schedule riding the track for Great Britain culminating in riding the Track World Championships with his fellow Isle of Man rider, Mark Cavendish.

In April 2009, Peter then went to Italy where he found himself under the guidance of a new manager and coach – former professional and Olympic medallist on the road, Max Sciandri. It was, Peter explained to me at the recent European Road Championships, quite a bit different to his time on the academy with Rod Ellingworth.

Max Sciandri, left, has been working with the GB team for over four years now. Above is Max giving riders in team GB at the World Road Championships some advice back in 2005.

“When I returned to Italy after the Track Worlds, it was a bit shock really because I was so used to the way Rod does things with set times for everything, a structured programme and so forth. For a while, I didn’t know what to do with myself but things soon changed and all of us in Italy got used to the way Max does things.”

“After the Track Worlds,  I had two weeks to get ready for the road season ahead and when I arrived, Max said to me ‘I think we should get you settled in, get some base form  working on the climbs and the descents on the road bike again.’”

“When I got back on the road again after the track, the road bike felt so strange and riding in a big group was strange too -- I couldn’t descend to save my life!”

“What Max was doing back then, I’d question it to myself and then after a while, I’d get to realise why he does things the way he does. For example, the season so far has consisted of three stage races, Tour of Region Friuli, Giro Pesche Nettarine  and the Baby Giro with a  few one day races in between and some good training blocks.”

“At Friuli, Max just let us get on with it and never really put any pressure on us and would ask us what day we’d like to go for it and then on the fifth day, we were sitting in a café and he said ‘so guys, what do you want to do’ and because everyone was really tired, no-one said anything.”

“So he asked who wants some coffee and a bit of cake. I was thinking at the time this is racing with no real aim but then at Giro Pesche Nettarine there was a bit more pressure on myself because we were a bit further into the season and we’d had a bit more racing.”

“In that race there were more tactics and he was on the radio pushing us to get results more. Then, in the Baby Giro, there was yet more pressure and when I got to the Baby Giro, I was so glad I didn’t have that same pressure to perform in Friuli because at the Baby Giro I was really hungry for results. It was the right time for the pressure to be applied because I had the form and there was no point putting pressure on a rider who doesn’t have the form.”

Peter says that everything has fallen into place in his second year in the Academy and his result in the Baby Giro is confirmation that maybe, just maybe, Britain has a rider for the stage races overall. “Everything is a lot easier this year” Peter says. “When I got out to Italy last year, it felt strange and the house felt empty but this year I came back to my room as I knew it. With me was Luke Rowe instead of Ben Swift who is a really good mate, as is Luke and Italy now felt like home. I felt comfortable in the town of Quarrata  too having made friends there.”

“The racing too is a lot easier” Peter goes on to explain. “I know how the Italian racing works now and as a rider, I am a lot more patient. Last year, I’d be itching to go if something got off the front and I’d be thinking like a junior in that ‘the break has gone and my race is over’. Now I can happily sit in the bunch knowing that if an early break goes, that the real racing starts at 100k. I have more experience now.”

Two Kennaughs on the rise -- Peter and closest to camera, Tim. Both represented Great Britain at the European Championships in July.

Peter, at 20, has also had to deal with the pressure of being a team leader which is again, a good experience for him to grapple with in a development team before he turns professional.

“Sometimes I do feel there is a lot of pressure on my shoulders. The team captain role comes about more in stage races where I am the highest ranked rider on GC so the others day in, day out will work for me. They’d put me in the right position in the peloton when I need to be there and stop with me when I have to stop and then help bring back on.”

“I really felt the pressure in the Baby Giro and not so much in Nettarine because that race was only five days long. In the Baby Giro, the riders in the team were throwing away their chances of a result, either on the day or overall, and working for me every day so I could get the team the result they wanted.”

“Towards the end of the Baby Giro, I did feel the stress of being the team leader when my legs were buckling but I knew had to finish in the front group and not lose any time. I came out of the Giro mentally wrecked. It was made even harder because I was racing riders a lot older (under 27) who have a lot more racing in their legs. The Baby Giro I think is only my 5th amateur stage race and at the back end, I was struggling to recover as quick as some of the other guys.”

The pressure on Peter though, or any other rider in the GB team, is lessened in the one day races. “In a one day race” Peter told me “the pressure is spread across two or three riders in GB and you have four riders working for them later on in the race instead of working for just one rider.”

When Peter returned to the Academy house in Italy after the Baby Giro after weeks of racing and pressure for results, he didn’t know what to do with himself having so much time on his hands to rest prior to the British Road Race championships and the European Championships that followed. “I couldn’t sit still” he says. “I didn’t want to be on the bike on one hand but did on another because it is what I am used to.”

Many months on having worked with Academy coach Max Sciandri, I asked Peter how he now feels about the way Max does things on the Olympic Academy. “I have so much more confidence and faith in Max now. I give him my ideas and he gives me his and we work together”.

In Italy with the Academy are three GB support staff – Hanlie Perry (carer) who is full time with the riders, a GB mechanic and Max Sciandri who manages them on a daily basis in training and at races as well as coaching them.

Peter says the lads see Max all the time and adds “I really get on with him and we can have a laugh and a joke. We’ll be going up a climb and he’ll come out with a story like ‘I remember when Bartali and me would smash it up here or I remember when I had a puncture and Bartali was doing press ups while he was waiting for me to pump it up’.”

“I think we have trained less this year but that has left us with more enthusiasm for racing. The methods from both Rod and Max work but in different ways” Peter explained.

Peter is a superb allrounder. He's won Team Pursuit titles on the track at European level and can climb too -- a rare mixture.

Peter’s time in the academy has helped give him confidence in his ability to race over any terrain and with the best Under 23 riders in the world. “Early on this year, I did put immense pressure on myself especially when I was knocking on the door in Nettarine and I came to the Giro where I saw the profiles and had it my head that although I could climb, the long 20 kilometre ones would be too tough for me. I had never been able to do them but at the Giro I was strong enough to get over them and got the stage win which I didn’t expect”.

Asked to compare his wins from 2008 to those in 2009, he told me “at races I won last year, I was just there to do a job like get in an early break but this year, when you’re on the start line as the designated leader of the team, and there to get the win, there is a lot more pressure but I’m enjoying that now.”

Feeling that pressure is a valuable lesson for Peter especially when you look at his training partner on the Isle of Man, Mark Cavendish, and the responsibility he has on his shoulders. “Seeing Cav having a whole team working for him is a pretty scary thought.  I can’t even begin to imagine the pressure he feels but he gets on with it and handles it well” Peter added.

As scary as that thought may be for Peter, he realises that one day, he may be in the same position as a pro and being a second year rider on the Academy, turning professional is his aim for the coming season. “Turning pro next year is definitely on the cards and I think it will be about the right time for me to step up” he says.

“I know I won’t just turn pro and start being the leader and winning races. I’ll be quite happy to learn my trade and help others while I do that. Last year I was working for Swifty and helping get him in the right position and that gave me a lot of experience for when I was the leader this year.”

There has been talk on the internet and in the press that with Team Sky looking for a potential winner of the Tour de France in the next five years that a rider such as Peter may be just the ticket. Whilst Peter was not saying anything about whether he may or may not ride for Team Sky, he did say that whilst flattered with the compliments of his chances of being a possible Tour winner, it would be very naïve of him to suggest that at 20, he will be capable of winning a Grand Tour.

“Sure, the Baby Giro has given more confidence for the future especially when you look at its history and people like Di Luca and Moser who have won the overall and I’ve finished third. So that does give me confidence that perhaps in the future I could be a stage race rider but what type I don’t know yet. I do seem to be consistent and be in the front groups on the hard climbs. For now though, I just want to let my career happen and we’ll see how it goes. All I can say is I hope I keep progressing as I have been and then you never know.”

Peter is now taking a well earned break on the Isle of Man. “Seriously – I cannot wait to go home and see the rock!” he said with a big smile. “After that I’ll go back to Italy and build up slowly. I could have stayed at home longer but have chosen to go back earlier and build up slowly rather than rush it.” 

His and the team’s goal will revolve around the Under 23 World Road Championships where the GB team has had two top four placings in the last two years including a Bronze medal for another Isle of Man rider Jonny Bellis.

“The Worlds is a big goal and I’ll be looking to keep the Brits up there in that race (under 23). If I can do that, it will show we can keep producing the riders to compete at that level. My preparation should be good with lots of one day races in August, a hilly stage race and then the Tour de Avenier which everyone knows about.”

Thanks to Peter for his time and good luck to him and the team for the rest of the season.

Related: Max Sciandri Interview