The British pair had time to consider each other with a wave of respect as they approached the finish line in Healesville 17 seconds clear of Dion Smith (One Pro Cycling), who won a reduced group sprint for third.
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“It was Froome, not me,” the Manxman said as he recovered in a huddle with teammates just past the line.
The triumph comes less than a week after the 26-year-old capitalised on a free role and claimed line honours at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
“Last weekend’s race was all about racing and getting out there but today was back to work, back to business,” Kennaugh said.
“We had a strategy, we stuck to it and it worked. I’ve got to take my hat off to Froomey because there’s a lot of guys in his position who wouldn’t help their teammates out like that. It was an awesome day for the team all around. It’s nice to come to these kind of races and be able to race like this. It makes a nice change.”
Sky was flawless in its race plan execution during the 126.1km undulating stage that comprised two circuits that each featured a categorised climb.
The outfit had signalled its intent earlier in the day helping Drapac to control the pace at the front of the peloton, which did not allow a six-man break, including Kristian House (One Pro), Alistair Slater (JLT Condor p/b Mavic), Nick Kastsonis (State of Matter / MAAP), Giacomo Berlato (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Craig Evers (Data#3 Cisco Racing p/b Scody) and Ben Hill (Attaque Team Gusto), more than four minutes.
Sky turned on the burners in the approach to the last climb some 30km from the finish and had the remnants of the break in its sights before the King of the Mountain prime.
Just as it had been announced that the race was altogether, Froome attacked with Kennaugh following the two-time Tour de France champion. Overnight leader Will Clarke (Drapac) lost contact with the peloton over the prime.
“We had had a good plan for today’s stage, which worked out perfectly. It was to make it hard going into that last climb for Froomey to have a go and I then I was just to follow wheels and judge the situation, and if I felt like I could jump across to him then do that,” Kennaugh explained.
“Massive thanks to the team and especially to Froomey because once I got across to him I pretty much sat on his wheel the whole way up the climb.”
The British pair swapped turns on the descent with a chase group of three including Jonathan Clarke (UnitedHealthcare), Benjamin Dyball (KordaMenta Australian National Team) and Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEdge) in pursuit.
The time gap wavered but at the end of the descent Kennaugh and Froome were able to pull away further. Kennaugh said the pair were confident of a victory with five kilometres remaining and swung into the finishing straight with no one else in sight.
Kennaugh gestured to Froome on the approach to the line before the latter extended his arm in applause of the British national champion, who pointed to his jersey as he took the win.
Sky will now aim to hold onto the race lead until the final stage on Sunday. Kennaugh has a seven second advantage to Froome and 23 seconds to Smith ahead of tomorrow’s 144.2km run from Yarra Glen to Moe.
“I think the next two stages are probably sprint days; we’ve got a strong team and obviously Orica-GreenEdge want to keep it together for Caleb [Ewan],” Kennaugh said. “So it’ll be down to that last day and I think that will suit me more than today with this climb being shorter and punchier.”
Meanwhile, Lucas Hamilton from the Australia national team was a casualty on the first road stage of the race and had to abandon following a crash.
Jayco Herald Sun Tour 2016, stage one: Healesville to Healesville, 126.1km
1. Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Sky 3-01-47
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky same time
3. Dion Smith (Nzl) One Pro Cycling at 17 secs
4. Anthony Giacoppo (Aus) Avanti Isowhey Sports same time
5. Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
6. Jack Bobridge (Aus) Trek-Segafredo
7. Adam Phelan (Aus) Drapac
8. Alistair Donohoe (Aus) KordaMentha Australian National Team
9. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini
10. Christian Meyer (Can) Orica-GreenEdge
Overall Classification after stage one
1. Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Sky 3-04-16
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at 7 secs
3. Dion Smith (Nzl) One Pro Cycling at 23 secs
4. Robbie Hucker (Aus) Avanti Isowhey Sports at 25 secs
5. Joseph Cooper (Nzl) Avanti Isowhey Sports at 26 secs
6. Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge at 27 secs
7. Anthony Giacoppo (Aus) Avanti Isowhey Sports same time
8. Jack Bobridge (Aus) Trek-Segafredo at 28 secs
9. Nathan Earle (Aus) Drapac same time
10. Chris Hamilton (Aus) KordaMentha Australian National Team