Competition for one of the nine spots in Team Sky's Tour de France line-up is notoriously fierce, but there can be few better ways to underline your credentials than winning atop Alpe d'Huez. Having been told at the start of the Critérium du Dauphiné that his chances were "fifty-fifty," Peter Kennaugh hopes his performance on the penultimate stage of the race has sent a message to the selectors.
Kennaugh, having been in the breakaway, won solo atop the famous mountain, which was scaled this time via the lesser-known Col de Sarenne, rather than the iconic 21 hairpins. He dropped his last breakaway companion, compatriot and good friend Ben Swift, with around three kilometres go to seal his first victory in 16 months.
"This can only help my chances for the Tour," Kennaugh said in his winner's press conference in Alpe d'Huez's Palais des Sports.
"I'd love to be there. If I'm not then I'm not, and I'll take a break after the Nationals, and prepare for the Vuelta [a España]. But I've tried my best. I always come into good form in June and July, and I just hope the team can take confidence in that."
Kennaugh, 27 and in his eighth season with Sky, has had a turbulent first half of the campaign, which started out with the hope of riding both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, and testing himself as a GC rider. He missed out on the Giro, however, as his seemingly annual April slump resurfaced and, as he explained, he has since been bounced around by the team.
"I wasn't even supposed to be in this race. I asked to go on the training camp for the Tour and do the Dauphiné, but I think they needed riders for [Tour of] California so I said, 'OK I'll do California and then do the altitude camp, and [Tour de] Suisse'. I knew I'd have good opportunities in Suisse so I was pretty motivated for that," said Kennaugh.
"And then eight days into my camp they said, 'OK now you've got to go to the Dauphiné because some riders are sick or injured,' so I said, 'OK I'll go to the Dauphiné.'
"It's funny the way the world works. It has worked out for the best – I've got this fantastic stage win. For me, the Dauphiné is actually one of my favourite races of the year – that and the Vuelta. I was happy to come it – it wasn't the plan, but nothing ever really goes to plan in professional cycling."
Kennaugh claimed Team Sky's first victory on Alpe d'Huez, and there was a British theme to the day as he went over the top of the Sarenne with just Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates) for company.
The two collaborated well before re-joining the last 4km of the traditional Alpe d'Huez ascent, maintaining their substantial lead over the rest of the break and the GC group, but as the road ramped up again it was time to part ways and, after a few accelerations, Kennaugh was away.
"I've raced with Swifty since I was probably seven or eight years old. We've done our whole careers together – we lived in Italy with each other when we were amateurs, when we were U23," he said.
"OK, he's won sprints but when Swifty is on super day he really is good at climbing. We spent almost three weeks in Sierra Nevada training in the mountains as well. For me it's no surprise – he's such a talented bike rider, and I was never sure of the win. As soon as it turned right into the last 3km I knew I had to put him under pressure straight away because I didn't want to wait until the last moment – I basically needed to make it as hard as possible.
"Obviously it's an amazing feeling to win on Alpe d'Huez but also to come over the top of the last climb with your best mate, it was quite surreal actually."
Next up for Kennaugh are the British national championships, which take place on his home turf on the Isle of Man – on a hilly course no less. He has the chance to add a third title to his palmares and perhaps a last chance to cement his place in the Tour.
"First and foremost," he countered, "to win on Alpe d'Huez is any pro bike rider's dream, so that's incredible and I'm going to just enjoy this moment for now."
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