Words: Claire Beaumont
Images: Angus Sung
Tim Kennaugh’s rich Manx accents rings out down the phone line. His words thick and clotted with that unique Isle of Man tang. I imagine him on the other end, in his trademark patterned headband, thick long hair, aviators on the tip of his nose and deep tan despite it being October.
I called Tim because at the close of the 2015 season he had been announced as Performance Manager of the JLT Condor team. Having risen from GB’s talent team to signing a pro contract at Rapha Condor Sharp in 2011, everything was looking good and then his ascent to the pro ranks was halted. He was forced into early retirement. Like a game of snakes and ladders, it was like Tim had landed on a snake and slipped back down to the base of the board, pure bad luck.
“My last race (of 2012) was the Tour of the North, in April,” he explained to Tom Southam in an interview for the team’s 2012 journal, Inside Out. The 20 year old prodigy from the Isle of Man, had been relieved to have been diagnosed with an under-active thyroid. The diagnosis explained his chronic fatigue, and disastrous string of performances in 2011. Team Manager John Herety committed his support into 2012 and gave him a new season to put his problems behind him. But the problems didn’t go away.
Speaking back in 2012 he explained “I’ve been to see the best doctors, I can’t see anyone better. I’ve been to all the specialists.” The problem for Tim was that no one really knew the answer. His dosage had to be changed frequently because of his training. The medicine was never really designed to work in the bodies of elite athletes. “All the doctors do is change my dose and say ‘come back in 7 weeks,’”
“It’s hard to explain… It’s not like lactic acid, or that my lungs are exploding. I’m not breathing heavily. It is like someone has taken the muscles out of my legs.”
Eventually after it all, Tim called it quits as a professional bike racer. Tim would be forgiven for ruing his luck but at 24 he has the maturity to see things differently. He is an ambitious man and so he went back to basics. He took a massage course and went back to John Herety to work as a carer for Rapha Condor JLT.
Tim used the job to see the race from the other side, observe the riders and how they felt and give them his analysis of the stage or the day. Working as a soigneur is not permanent gig, you are only employed when you are needed. At weekends mostly.
Tim began a small coaching business. He worked with new riders who wanted to achieve riding 100 miles, a personal best, complete a sportive. “I didn’t set out to be a coach,” he explains but enjoyed it, so took an accreditation course at British Cycling. “When people do well and when you have given them a plan and you put your energy to into making something work for them, and they turn around and achieve it. It feels good.”
John Herety placed Tim’s former team mates under the new coach’s wing. Ed Laverack, the young Welshman, rode to victory in the under 23 road race championships in 2014. Then Irish rider, Felix English achieved a string of break through results at the 2014 Tour Series.
“Tim is unique; he’s been at the sharp end of professional cycling since he was a teen. He has a natural talent at being able to read numbers and read a race.” Says Team Manager, John Herety. “He is talkative which translates well into filling others with morale and motivation. This is what you need when the racing gets tough.”
Tim by coaching standards is very young, just 24. But he doesn’t see that as an issue. “It is half being able to give someone a training plan but also understanding different people’s attitudes to motivation.”
When I called Tim he was fresh out of a psychology course. There are long transfers in stage racing and Tim fills the hours travelling listening to podcasts rather than the top 40.
“I listen to coaching podcasts. I listen to psychology lectures, and read blogs. Methods and ideas are changing all the time.”
Tim feels it is essential to stay ahead, “You work with riders who have been elite for years and can become a bit stale. They are still riding well but there’s no spark. New fresh coaching methods and ideas can give them a spring back in their step.”
A Performance Manager is a fairly new concept in cycling. Once reserved for national teams, most riders used to have their own individual coaches. Team Sky was one of the first teams to introduce performance managers who would look after groups of riders, and set group aims.
They role puts them in a whole of market approach. Understands how they are all performing to enable better selection for a race.
“Before you didn’t know who was putting what power. Power measurement is slightly different between tests or systems.”
“You didn’t know how long someone could ride hard for. Now you can select certain riders for one job and be sure of the result, it all clicks together better. Riders can train together to work towards a goal rather than one turning off to do an effort on their own.”
It has been unusual twist for Tim, it seems he is back on the ladder, albeit a different one that he started out on.
Tim’s tips for sticking to a training plan
1. Monitor what you are doing. Power is the best measure. You can measure heart rate or even speed and distance over time.
2. It takes 6 weeks to make a new regime stick.
3. Copying someone else’s plan won’t always work so be prepared to adjust it. It may not suit your lifestyle.
4. It is better to do something that just quit and spend the day indoors. If it’s cold and raining and you had 4 hour ride planned. Don’t give up try and get out and do half it’s more than zero.
5. Bank it early. If you feel like putting it off, it will weigh on you all day. The weather could be worse tomorrow. If you put it off today then you’ll probably put off doing a session tomorrow and so on.