British national champion Peter Kennaugh has come back from an injury-hit early season with a big win in France

Critérium du Dauphiné stage one winner Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) has said his unexpected solo victory in the prestigious French race’s opening day was a ‘reward’ after an injury-plagued early season, during which he admits he struggled.

British road race national champion Kennaugh, 25, attacked from a five-man lead group in the final two kilometres of Sunday’s stage to Albertville to wear the coveted yellow jersey of race leader. Kennaugh has tried similar moves in the past, only to be reeled back in – but on this occasion, he timed it to perfection and had the legs to carry it off.

“It just worked out perfectly,” Kennaugh said after the race via this team’s website. “I always knew that once we got that gap and the bunch wasn’t coming back super fast that we had a chance. Then I just planned to attack within the last three kilometres, fully committed to that and pulled it off luckily.”

Kennaugh may have made it look easy, but the months leading up to the Dauphiné have been far from simple for the Manxman, as he suffered from lingering injury and had to put in some hard work to get back into top shape.

>>> Injured Peter Kennaugh watches at the sidelines as Sky conquers Classics

“Obviously I had an injury and three weeks totally off the bike back in March,” said Kennaugh. “I’ve literally spent the last seven weeks on the road so it’s just nice to have it all finally pay off. It was a big commitment, not seeing any family or spending any time at home.”

When his team-mates were racing, Kennaugh was spending five hours in the saddle on training rides to regain his condition.

“Those kind of days on your own in the rain are the days where your commitment and sacrifices really count I suppose.”

Peter Kennaugh wins stage one of the 2015 Criterium du Dauphine

Peter Kennaugh wins stage one of the 2015 Criterium du Dauphine

Ninth place overall at the Tour of California in May showed that Kennaugh’s hard miles were starting to pay off, and he has hit key Tour de France warm-up race Critérium du Dauphiné in obviously good form.

“It’s nice to be rewarded for something after those darker, harder days when nothing really feels like it’s going right. You sometimes question what you’re doing it for, then when you get days like this it makes up for it. I’m over the moon.”

Kennaugh will now switch to supporting team leader Chris Froome for the remainder of the race, which continues on Monday with a stage predicted to finish in a bunch sprint.

Kennaugh was passed over for selection for last year’s Tour de France when it started in Yorkshire, and instead took overall victory in the Tour of Austria. Sunday’s win must surely have elevated his name near the top of the list for Sky’s Tour team selectors.

Video: Watch Peter Kennaugh win the opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné