After eight seasons at Team Sky Peter Kennaugh is set to embark on a phase of his career at Bora-Hansgrohe. In 2018 the British rider, who has spent his entire career riding in the service of others, will have the opportunity to step up and become one of the protected riders alongside Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka.
At the Bora team camp in Mallorca last week, Kennaugh had his first real chance to acquaint himself with his new teammates. Of course there had been a brief team presentation in Germany the days before, but the get-away on the Spanish island offered a true opportunity for the Manxman to mix with his future allies.
"It felt like changing school in the lead up to coming here," he tells Cyclingnews after a late dinner and meeting with the management.
"I was anxious, as you would be, but it's been really chilled. Everyone is dead easy to get on with and it's relaxed. It's nice on the head, having that change of environment and having a complete set of new people to work with."
Less than 30 miles away his former Team Sky colleagues are going through similar motions - eat, sleep, train, repeat - but for Kennaugh this winter marks a new adventure. He turned pro with Team Sky in 2010, during their inaugural season, and was tipped as a talented climber with a promising future, having finished third in the Baby Giro the year before.
Back in 2010, most would have put their money on Kennaugh reaching the top of the stage racing tree, rather than the older Chris Froome, but as the years past, the two riders' trajectories drifted in opposite directions. While Froome abruptly transformed, Kennaugh became the personification of stagnation for British riders at Team Sky.
He raced Grand Tours but was rarely given the chance to shine, and his role over time became that of a domestique. On his day he could climb with the best, but his lack of consistency cost him dearly. When Team Sky needed eight riders to sit on the front and ride for one, they looked beyond Kennaugh, for more dependable specimens.
Kennaugh found himself at a crossroads during the end of the 2017 season. Overlooked for the Tour de France for another season, and without a contract for the coming year, he began to look at his options. With Grand Tour squads dropping to eight riders in 2018, the Tour team would have been an even harder nut to crack and with Team Sky having already announced a raft of younger talent, it was now or never for the 28-year-old.
The risks of change
Switching teams comes with a number of risks, and not every British rider to leave Team Sky has found life greener on the other side.
"I think that's more for the British lads," he says.
"We're all mates so it's like leaving your friends. That's maybe the hardest thing and I think that's what keeps a lot of the British guys there. You have that relationship with Rod [Ellingworth] and you've known Dave [Brailford] for ages, so that's what definitely stopped me from leaving the team two years ago. I thought about it back then but I didn't have the confidence, or maybe the self-belief, to move. This time I felt like I had to. I had reached the point in my career when everything seemed a bit mundane. I was going to races unmotivated and I had to change.
"I think it was a slow build-up. I don't know what it was. It was also the training camps, so going to Bora in Germany and hearing them talk and their passion, it was great. People come to Team Sky and think it's all glitz and glamour, but I've heard Steve Peters' talk with the riders and Brailsford's before. It gets to the point where you're hearing the same thing, so it's good for the head to change and I think it's important for me to try and prove myself again. At Team Sky I got to the point where I was 'just Pete'. Here I want to prove myself.
"Maybe I was a bit comfortable at Team Sky. Coming here I think that there's a lot more attention to detail around me. Instead of being 'just Pete' there's more attention and I didn't really see that at Sky because I was going through the motions. I was doing what I'd done for the last eight years. I've come here, they've invested money in me and they want to get the best out of me. That's been really nice."
The inevitable question is, if Kennaugh wishes to prove himself, then just what kind of rider is he trying to establish himself as. After almost a decade at Team Sky he became so ingrained in the furniture that it almost became impossible to decipher if he was climber, a domestique or a wannabe Classics rider. There were flashes of class, such as his two stage wins in the Dauphine, and his Cadel Evans triumph in 2016, but those glimpses were few and far between.
"It's strange, because looking back I always had the ability to climb but not consistently throughout the year. I don't know if that's because I haven't trained consistently, but I think 'by go for it', it means trying to win a stage. Generally, it's about delivering on the ability that I know I have within me. It's about being more consistent. You can see really good climbers and they're not in the gruppetto, whereas if I was feeling bad I'd be in there, but on another day I'd be in the front group. That's down to me and I need to work on that."
Perhaps then the real question then is whether Kennaugh was a real Team Sky rider to begin with in the first place.
"I don't think. Looking back… I don't think I ever really was, although cycling has gone that way and more teams are riding like Team Sky. If you look at the first week of a Grand Tour, everyone is in a line of nine, but when you talk about 'Sky riders' like Geraint Thomas and Froome, maybe not 'G' so much, but I don't think that's me or my personality. Maybe I like to race more with emotion and passion. That can also be my downfall. Coming here, and the environment it feels a lot more fun. I say to the guys here, and Sky does have that perception, it's not like they're bad guys or boring. That's just the mentality of the team."
At Bora there will be little chance for Kennaugh to drift into the sidelines. The German team have invested well in the off-season, picking up the likes of Daniel Oss and Davide Formolo. They mean business, and Kennaugh will be expected to step up in weeklong stage races and show his support for Rafal Majka and Peter Sagan when called upon.
That process will start at the Tour Down Under in January and continue at the Cadel Evans race before a return to Europe for the Volta ao Algarve, Paris-Nice and then the Ardennes. The Dauphine follows in June before the Tour de France in July completes the programme Kennaugh so desperately sought.
Hunting stage wins is part of the aim but so too are GC results in weeklong races.
"I've got to the point now where if I'm going to ride GC then I need to prove it with a top-10, at least, in a weeklong WorldTour race. I can do it in smaller races. I've got this year and next year to prove to myself then I can do it. If I can't, then maybe I'll just look at going for stages, rather than moving in between. It's all to play for.
"I think there is expectancy, but I think that's a good thing. I'm still going to be doing the job of helping people at the Tour de France, but at races like Paris-Nice and the Dauphine I can go for myself, and I think they're expecting me to perform.
"I want to prove to myself more than anyone, and prove to Sky that I'm a good rider. I feel like I can deliver better than I have done. It's good to be here."
*This interview was conducted before the news broke concerning Chris Froome and his salbutamol levels at the 2017 Vuelta a Espana.
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