Peter Kennaugh is the coolest man in the bunch. As spirited in his racing as his style, the Team Sky rider oozes euro pro panache. Just like Hugo Koblet, who raced with a comb and bottle of cologne in his back pocket, the 26-year-old is never less than immaculately turned out, and since 2014 he has had his own unique Rapha kit to wear too: the British national champion’s jersey.
It is one thing to represent the flag, another to do it in style. After the red and blue bands around his white jersey were broken up by mesh side panels last year, Kennaugh asked Rapha to make sure that they looped all the way round for 2015/16. He pairs the jersey with matching sunglasses, gloves, socks, shoes and helmet, and his white Pinarello bike has red decals on one side and blue on the other – his own idea. Boasting sharp tan lines year round and never without a perfectly ‘lufted’ national champ cycling cap on his head, the stripes of Great Britain couldn’t be worn by a classier operator.
The look of a champion
The national championships road race is one for the mavericks. One for those independents and jokers who, without the leash of team orders to reign in their wayward individualism, come to play their cards in the wicked game of last man standing. The results are never anything less than fun.
Team Sky’s Peter Kennaugh has been the last man standing at the past two British national championship road races. A mercurial personality in an outfit that prizes riding the line, and with a racer’s heart proudly worn, the Manxman is a throwback in an ever modernising sport. He attacks when you least expect it. He races with unchecked emotion. And when he wins, he almost always does it by attacking solo.
On an early summer’s day in Lincoln last year, Kennaugh gave British cycling fans a performance of grit and panache to defend his title. The Team Sky rider has a history of impressive rides at the nationals, with a series of podium finishes stretching back to 2008 when he came second as a fresh-faced 19-year-old. The top step had eluded him, however, until 2014 when he outsprinted a sprinter (Ben Swift). One year later in Lincoln he was determined not to give up the beautiful jersey.
Nearly 200 men stood on the start line at a sports centre outside town, but only 30 would finish the race. When the riding is hard from the start – Kennaugh ended up averaging 45kph – those that fall behind as the course enters its final circuit are taken out of the race before being overtaken during the repeated laps. It is an unforgiving business, and many hopefuls’ day would be ended by a marshall telling them to pull over and unpin their race number.
Back at the start, and within 4km, the pack had turned a corner into a headwind and were immediately strung out. Team Sky’s riders – Kennaugh, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Andy Fenn – had decided to shell their domestic-based counterparts as soon as possible and were setting a punishing pace.
Kennaugh sidled away with Stannard in tow at 80km to go, and the pair worked together on lap after lap of the circuit, which centred around the torturously steep and devilishly cobbled Michaelgate climb. Kennaugh attacked it with relish each lap, while Stannard looked like he was relishing the thought of the finish. Mark Cavendish and Luke Rowe eventually caught them with 20km to go and it was clear the winner would come from this quartet. First Stannard went, and then Cavendish, with only Kennaugh able to follow the second move.
As the two Manxmen raced side by side up the final climb of Michaelgate, it was more the battle of the Isle of Man than Britain. While Cavendish’s spirited effort was worthy, Kennaugh had led from the start and he wouldn’t let anyone lead him across the finish. He was the first man to go back to back for over 20 years.
Leaning back onto a barrier behind the podium afterwards with eyes shut, a look of exhaustion, relief and elation merged into one. “I haven’t felt like this after a race before – I'm absolutely buckled,” said the champion. Chapeau, Peter.
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