Photography by Camille J McMillan | Words by Joe Hall
The Isle of Man – Ellan Vannin in the native Manx language – is located in the Irish sea between the east coast of Northern Ireland and the westerly edge of Cumbria. Commonly known as Mann, the name is thought to be derived from an early Celtic word for mountain, moniyos. Local folklore tells of Manann Mac Lir (Manann ‘Son of the Sea’), a mythical figure who was supposedly the first king of Mann, and who protected it from Viking raiders by cloaking the coastline in mist. Mann certainly feels like a place of resilience and the ‘triskelion’ motif that adorns the Manx flag – three armoured legs with golden spurs – is indicative of the island’s fiercely independent nature.
This self-governed ‘rock’, as some locals affectionately call it, is perhaps best known as the home of the Isle of Man TT, a motorcycle race held annually on the island since 1907. The TT stands for ‘Tourist Trophy’ but the race is also run as a time trial. For two weeks every summer, thousands flock to the island to watch one of the most iconic events in the motor-racing calendar. The TT’s 38-mile Snaefell Mountain Course runs between Douglas, the main town on the island, and Ramsey in the north. While a hugely prestigious and exciting event, the TT is notoriously dangerous. The circuit has claimed the lives of more than 200 riders in training and competition, though such macabre facts have not deterred the commitment of the fanatical fans and racers, nor, it should be said, the Manx government.
Even though Mann is a mecca of motorcycle road racing, human-powered bikes have a strong presence here, too. The Isle of Man is where Peter Kennaugh, Team Sky racer and British National Champion, grew up and where he resides with his family between racing and training camps. Rapha visited Peter as he was winding up his off-season, the perfect opportunity to kit him out in the latest Pro Team winter products.
“Cycling runs through the family, everyone is involved from cousins to aunties. My granddad was one of the founding members of the Manx Road Club that me, Cav [Mark Cavendish, a fellow Manxman] and Mark Christian [Team Wiggins] all rode for. I was even taken from hospital the day I was born so my parents could watch the end of the Manx Trophy.”
Just this summer, Kennaugh broke Chris Boardman’s record on the aforementioned TT course, on his National Champion’s Pinarello. Coming up through British Cycling’s Olympic Academy, Kennaugh has been at Sky since the team’s formation, in 2010. He won gold at the 2012 London games as part of the British pursuit team, played a key role in Chris Froome’s first Tour de France victory, and has won the British National Road Championship for the past two years.
“There is such a deep cycling community here that it really gives you character as a rider, and it has also enabled me to learn a lot from the likes of Cav, Rob Holden and Mike Doyle. A lot of it was old-school stuff but I like that way of doing things.”
The winding, hilly riding terrain here suits Kennaugh’s racing style and helped nurture the punchy climber now able to throw his bike across the island virtually with his eyes closed.
“I know every pothole, every road worth riding. It’s great for training, providing all types of terrain. There’s a decent training group out most mornings, guys I’ve been friends with since I was 10 years old.”
“It’s such a small place that everyone is always interested in what you’re doing. The local newspaper sometimes has two pages dedicated to cycling and that creates a real connection to the sport. I love seeing people out on their bikes. When I was growing up I knew pretty much every cyclist on the island; now there are that many people on bikes that I hardly know anyone.”
With its ‘green hills by the sea’ and laid-back inhabitants, the island is clearly welcoming to cyclists and you get the sense that, despite his extensive travels, Kennaugh continues to return here precisely because of Mann’s lack of pretension.
“I think for any professional cyclist time at home is cherished. You’re constantly travelling within the circus of pro racing, so the end of the season here is a great time to switch off and catch up with the whole family.”
“I love riding my bike but I also love putting it away for a month and not caring what I eat, or worrying about the hard training session the next day. I think it’s really important to allow yourself those couple of weeks of freedom, that escape from the sport. It might make getting back on the bike in November more difficult but, for me, it’s worth it.”
It’s refreshing to hear a pro cyclist talk about enjoying time off the bike, but Kennaugh has always had a keen understanding of the discipline required to make it as a pro rider. He knows that respect for his job is paramount but also that cycling as a profession is both a privilege and a labour of love.