Words: David Evans | Date:
This June, Peter Kennaugh won his first national champion’s jersey in a tense and hard-fought race in Monmouthshire. His victory over team-mate Ben Swift was a long time coming – although only 24-years-old, the Manxman has a long and storied history in the national road race. After taking the junior title in 2007, he took second in the senior race the following year, earning the U23 title in the performance. Since then, he’s been outside of the top four just once.
As we launch Peter’s special edition cap, we took the opportunity to speak to him about his near misses, the finale of this year’s edition, and his favourite champion from the race’s history. Peter Kennaugh is currently riding as one of Chris Froome’s key domestiques in Spain, so we’ve taken this chance to republish Tom Southam’s in-depth interview from last year, given just three days after Peter finshed his first three-week race.
Your history in the senior race goes back to 2008, when you got second aged just 19. Since then, you’ve had an incredible run of results – does this make winning the jersey sweeter, or did you feel like it was just a matter of time?
Yes, it definitely makes the win the more special. I have been on the podium so many times, always watching another rider pulling on the jersey and then seeing him wear it for the whole year. It was always hard to take, and the fact that I’ve been so close before makes this win even more meaningful to me. I think I had only just come to terms with the fact that I might not ever win the nationals.
The finale of the race was very tense, and excellent to watch. What were you thinking about when in the last few miles as you rode in with Ben Swift? When did you know you’d won?
I was mainly thinking about the finish in 2009 – I knew I had to wait for Swifty to take the sprint up and I knew I had to start my sprint as late as possible if I stood a chance of winning. The sprint is downhill and once you hit your max speed on the front you can’t give anymore. I waited for Swifty to reach this moment, then I came out of his slipstream with only 50 metres to go.
I couldn’t believe it when I started to come around him, as I thought as soon as I came up next to him he would kick again and beat me easily. I was in a state of disbelief – to beat a sprinter in a sprint!
Aside from this year, which was your favourite national championship race? Why?
It’s hard to say because they are all tinged with a bit of disappointment. However the first nationals in 2008 [when Peter, aged just 19, took second to Olympian Rob Hayles] has to be a good memory – it was a great result to get at that age. 2009 was special also. The finish in Abergavenny is always packed with spectators, and my brother put in a great performance in the junior race, only narrowly missing out on the title.
Of all the riders to wear the jersey, who is your favourite?
Steve Joughin. He won the 1984 nationals on the Isle of Man. A Manxman winning in front of his home crowd? I don’t think there’s anyway to top that.
[Steve Joughin was only a couple of months younger than Peter when he took his title in 1984, and went on to win the race again in 1988. His book, Pocket Rocket, is available in all good book stores.]