Peter Kennaugh says he’s ready to prove he can climb with the world’s best at the Vuelta a España when it starts this weekend, after putting the disappointment of having to miss the Olympic Games behind him.
The Team Sky rider is going into mountainous edition of the Spanish Grand Tour, where he will race in support of Chris Froome, in what he called “the form of his life” after recovering the fitness that ruled him out of Olympic contention.
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The Team Sky rider was initially named in Team GB’s Rio road race five-man squad but withdrew his name in July, having struggled after breaking his collarbone in May. Steve Cummings replaced him in the Olympics line up.
The 27-year-old raced at the five-stage Vuelta a Burgos instead at the start of August and finished fifth overall, and said that plus a solid block of training has put him in good form ahead of the final Grand Tour of the season.
“I feel like I’m in the form on my life,” he told Cycling Weekly. “In training I’ve felt great on the climbs, I’ve felt stronger than ever. I’m really excited about it and really looking forward to it.
“It’s one of the Grand Tours going into it that I feel the freshest I’ve ever been. I’m just going to take each day as it comes and really tackle each day full gas.”
With 10 summit finishes this year’s Vuelta is one for climbers, and Kennaugh is hoping to show he can consistently perform well across a three-week race. He last competed here in 2014 when Froome finished second, and hasn’t raced a Grand Tour since he was forced to leave the Tour de France early last year with illness.
“First and foremost I’m 100 per cent behind Froomey for the GC and that’s what I want to come here and do – consolidate that place as a climber and not only prove to myself but prove to the team and everyone else that I can climb in that front group,” he continued.
“If I came out of the race having done that I’d be really happy.”
Froome has finished second twice at the Vuelta but has never won it, and is going into the race after a summer where he won bronze in the Olympic Games time trial and secured his third Tour de France title.
Yet Kennaugh believes his team-mate will get stronger as the race progresses, pointing to the 37-kilometre individual time trial on stage 19 as a day that could favour him. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) are among those he will face.
“For him [Froome] it’s probably a case of getting back into that rhythm of racing after all the training and travelling. [We want to] limit our losses as a team on that first week,” he said.
“I think he’ll really come into his own in that second and third week, especially with that time trial towards the back end of the race. You saw in the Olympics how good he is at time trialling compared to the other GC riders.
“It’ll be an interesting race and one that will go all the way to those last couple of days for the GC result.”