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Criterium du Dauphine 2015: stage one – commentary

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Photographs: ASO/X Bourgois, ASO/X Bourgois

How good is Peter Kennaugh? And how good might he become?
Both might seem extraordinary questions to ask of a rider who is now into his sixth year as a professional.
By staying clear of the sprinters teams in the final two kilometres on a circuit in Albertville to win the opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, Kennaugh revealed another talent in an impressive collection.
Kennaugh is a reigning Olympic champion in the team pursuit, British road race champion, Tour of Austria champion, and winner last year of the Coppi e Bartali. It’s a diverse portfolio that points at a broad talent.
Arguably his greatest performance to date did not come in any of the aforementioned races, but in his support for Chris Froome at the 2013 Tour de France.
The-then 23-year-old was a vital ally to his leader, eclipsed only by Richie Porte, and his omission from Sky’s Tour squad the following year was arguably Dave Brailsford’s greatest oversight, despite the headlines commanded by the decision not to select Bradley Wiggins.

Kennaugh’s selection for the Dauphiné may hint at a place in the Tour this year, though the Sky team on duty in the Savoie is unlikely to be the one that rolls out in Utrecht (compare and contrast with Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana, which, with the exception of Jakob Fuglsang, and possibly Mikel Landa, looks like the finished article).
Now Kennaugh has a yellow leader’s jersey to add to his spoils; a tunic to place alongside the gold medal and national champion’s jersey. How long he will wear it remains to be seen. It will certainly be his employer’s intention that he should bequeath it to Froome.
Both men have had sporadic seasons, though the nature of leadership means that Froome’s highs have involved victories (the Vuelta Andalcuia) and his lows are comparative (third at Romandie; ceding leadership to eventual victor Porte in Catalunya).
Kennaugh has spent several weeks training alone, only rejoining his team for a recent altitude training camp on Tenerife. It appears to have done him good. A defence of his British title is no foregone conclusion, even if he maintains his current form – team-mate Geraint Thomas and 2013 champion Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) are both scheduled to take to the start in Lincoln – but experience may help Kennaugh.
In 2013, and racing as a guest for Manx outfit Rock Racing at the Lincoln GP, Kennaugh delivered a similar performance to his ride today in Albertville. Escaping with five laps to go, he held off the field on the final ascent of the brutal Michaelgate climb.
A repeat performance later this month would earn him a second year in the national champion’s jersey and almost certain selection for the Tour. But it might indicate still greater intent: to be considered alongside the best of the peloton’s younger cohort.
Kennaugh lacks the career-defining achievement of a Kwiatkowski or Quintana, and has been usurped in any debate over sheer potential by the Yates twins. As he enters the mid period of his career, he will surely seek a higher profile. A win at the Dauphiné, however unlikely, would certainly deliver that.

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