Peter Kennaugh capitalised on a rare opportunity to win the second edition of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on Sunday.
The 26-year-old marked a fine solo victory at the end of the 173.9km race finishing six seconds ahead of Leigh Howard (IAM) and Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek-Segafredo), who spearheaded a 19-man chase group.
Mark Cavendish made a low-key road season debut with new team Dimension Data at the event, withdrawing during the final lap where compatriot Kennaugh launched his winning attack.
The one-day race presents a rare opportunity for Kennaugh and Team Sky contemporaries to embrace a free role at the start of a season majority dedicated to supporting teammates.
“It’s amazing the feeling of being able to race properly for myself,” the Manxman said post-race. “The domestique work, it’s great and rewarding but sometimes you can get a bit lost in the sport and why you were doing it in the first place.
“When you think back to juniors and under-23s it wasn’t so business, it wasn’t you have to be here at this point of the race, you have to be there at that point of the race, you just jumped on your bike and cracked on. That’s what I’m best at, when I’m left to my own devices.
“Coming to these kind of races you’ve got to make the most of the opportunities so when you go to the bigger races maybe you can have more of a free role.”
There was little cooperation on the road between teams and as such the race scenario consistently changed with weather less of a variable this year than last.
Kennaugh kept his nerve on a 20.2km finishing circuit in Geelong, which riders lapped three times following a 113.7km out and back loop that encompassed the Surf Coast.
He was one of 12 riders that got clear within the final 30km where an aggressive Rafael Valls (Lotto Soudal) attacked the leaders before Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data) accelerated to join the Spaniard, with Kennaugh’s team-mate Salvatore Puccio on his wheel.
The race regrouped and Sky and BMC moved to the fore of a decimated peloton leading into the final lap, swallowing a four-man chase in pursuit of the three race leaders.
Kennaugh jumped at the base of the Challambra Ave climb, bridging across to those left in front and then leaving them in his wake as he charged up the steep ascent. He maintained about a 20 second advantage as he led the race for the final 12km to the finish, looking over his shoulder only once.
“Luke [Rowe] was always on the radio to me,” he said. “When I was away with just over a lap to go and even leading up to this race he was like, ‘do not do anything until the last lap,’ because last year I came through here off the front on my own with like 80km to go, so I’ve got him to thank for that.
“I’ve been working with my brother, Tim Kennaugh, he’s been coaching me since November and working closely with [Sky coach] Rod Ellingworth,” he continued. “It’s the first winter where I’ve had real structure to my training and it helped massively in that final 10km when I was able to hold that pace. I would never have been able to do that a year ago, or two years ago.
“It’s been hard but obviously rewarding today.”
Pat Lane (Avanti Isowhey Sports) marked a noteworthy performance with his attack in the hard and fast start in Geelong, Victoria sticking. The Australian spearheaded an initial six-man break, including Kristian House (One Pro Cycling), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Morgan Smith (Kenyan Riders Down Under), Adrian Hegyvary (UnitedHealthcare) and Josh Berry (St George Merida), that led the race out to the coast. He and De Marchi stayed out at the front of affairs until the final 40km.
Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race
1. Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Team Sky 4-04-59
2. Leigh Howard (Aus) IAM Cycling at 6secs
3. Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
4. Pim Ligthart (Ned) Lotto – Soudal
5. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica GreenEdge
6. Nathan Haas (Aus) Dimension Data
7. Alexey Tsatevich (Rus) Katusha
8. Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky
9. Enrico Battaglin (Ita) LottoNL-Jumbo
10. Dion Smith (NZl) ONE Pro Cycling