"It's a long way to come to just sit in the peloton the whole week," said Pete Kennaugh of the Tour of Guangxi, and the Manxman was as good as his word on the opening stage in Beihai, clipping off the front on the final climb in the company of his former Sky teammate Gianni Moscon. Their brief raid was, predictably enough, snuffed out by the sprinters' teams on the rapid run-in to the finish, but it was a statement of Kennaugh's intentions and outlook this week in China.
After turning a trying debut season at Bora-Hansgrohe on its head with a series of fine displays in recent weeks, Kennaugh will look to continue his upward trajectory in the final days of the campaign in Guangxi, mindful that a dash of motivation can take a man a long, long way at this point in the year.
"A lot of the guys who are at this race are either mentally done in at the end of the season or they're coming back from injury or something, so it's a good opportunity for me," Kennaugh told Cyclingnews in Nanning on Thursday.
"It was good to get the win with Pascal Ackermann [on stage 2] and in those conditions as well. And tomorrow [the uphill finish at Nongla on Friday - ed.], we'll see what happens and take it from there."
Given his form and his pedigree, Kennaugh ought to be among the contenders on the short climb to the finish at Nongla on stage 4, where Tim Wellens sealed final overall victory in the maiden Tour of Guangxi a year ago.
"I don't know much about it really, only the results from last year," Kennaugh said. "It's the only sort of hilly stage in the race so I'll obviously try something but I'm not really sure what kind of riders it's suited to - maybe the Classics kind of guys, who have a bit of a punch and who aren't too heavy."
A one-day future?
A member of Team Sky since its inaugural season in 2010, Kennaugh departed for Bora-Hansgrohe this year after confessing that he had felt as though he had been going through the motions in the latter part of his tenure on the British squad. Initial excitement at the move was tempered when he grappled for form and morale shortly after making his debut at the Tour Down Under.
"Just after Australia, I just sort of struggled. I never really felt good. Sort of April time was the turning point where I started to feel normal again on the bike. After that, I slowly started to get better," said Kennaugh, who would only re-start his season at the Tour de Romandie.
"It is stressful when you feel so shit and without energy on the bike. And when you've just signed for a new team and you can't really train. But I just took some weeks off and refocused and started again."
Missing out on a Tour de France berth perhaps proved something of a blessing, as it allowed Kennaugh to race more extensively than he would otherwise have done in the latter part of the year. He won the Grand Prix Primo Cerami in late July and has produced a string of aggressive performances in the final weeks of the season, including attacking displays at the GP de Montreal and the World Championships in Innsbruck, as well as third place at last week's Tre Valli Varesine.
Such efforts might lead to a change in emphasis in 2019. At Team Sky, where he formed part of the stage racing unit and entire seasons were built around the Tour de France, there was little room to entertain ambitions in one-day races. At Bora-Hansgrohe, Kennaugh perhaps has a little more leeway to explore his possibilities in the Ardennes and elsewhere.
"It's something that I've thought more about this year. I've felt a lot better and stronger, and like I can be involved in the racing more in the one-days. We have a team camp straight after this, so I'll sit down with the guys and see what kind of one-day races I can target," said Kennaugh, who had already tweaked his training pattern towards the discipline in the build-up to the Worlds.
"A lot of people train in three-day blocks, and then take a rest day. But for the Worlds I was doing one big seven-hour day, recovering properly and then doing another big seven-hour day. So maybe my training will change a bit like that, we'll see. We'll get through the winter first and then take it from there."
That World Championship showing will sustain Kennaugh through the off-season. He opted to anticipate the big attacks on the final lap by accelerating with 22km to go, but his eventual 16th place finish suggested that he was stronger than he had realised.
Rather than ruminate on what might have been, however, Kennaugh prefers to draw solace from the athletic performance.
"You don't necessarily have belief in yourself when you haven't had the best results. In hindsight, I could have waited until the last lap and maybe then I could have gone over the top with [Michael] Valgren when he came across to me," Kennaugh said. "But at the end of the day you can't really live that way. I'll just take it as is."
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