IT’S A warm evening in September, just a day or so after the close of the Tour of Britain. Tim Kennaugh is passing through Liverpool, where the week-long race kicked off in 2014, on his way back home to the Isle of Man.
We’ve arranged to meet at a bar and Tim arrives wearing an extra small shirt, sporting shades and towing two black hardcases that sport large white ‘Kennaugh’ stickers.
It’s not been long since Tim stopped racing for Rapha Condor JLT and moved into a job supporting the team. Like his brother, Peter Kennaugh, Tim was a superb rider – perhaps even better than his younger brother at his peak – but it all started to unravel in 2011.
DK: I’ve read the great piece Tom Southam wrote about you in Inside Out [a 2011 book on Rapha Condor Sharp youth riders]. He talked about you being diagnosed with a thyroid condition and how it effectively finished your racing career. How is it all going and what is the treatment you are on now?
TK: 175mgs of Thyroxine per day – four tablets. I still have some symptoms, but it’s all there is at the moment.
DK: What is it exactly – an over-active Thyroid?
TK: Under active, but the situation would be the same either way, as if it was over-active, they would take it out and I would be on similar supplements to the ones I take now.
DK: Are the tablets helping?
TK: Yes, but of course I don’t push my body so much as I did when I was racing. I don’t train like I used to, so that helps too. When I was still racing, I had to check my levels and then change my dose every day to try and compensate for the damage that I was doing to my body. When I packed in racing, though, it stabilized and I’ve haven’t needed to change the dose since. It comes and goes. I’ve kind of got used to it all, but the symptoms are chronic fatigue, dry skin, brittle hair, depression – it affects every cell in the body somehow.
DK: Cycling is incredibly taxing on the body without an illness, so you must have been really suffering by the time you were diagnosed?
TK: I’d had a really good winter – probably my best ever – just smashing the miles with Pete. Then I started going to races and getting in the top twenties, really getting in the mix. Then it all went wrong. I was back in Italy racing for an Italian team full of Polish riders, so it would be Polish TV in the house all the time. No-one would talk to me and I was too far away from Pete to train with him. I felt pretty isolated and then the weight problems created by the under-active thyroid kicked in. We had to weigh ourselves each morning and put the result on a chalk board for the manager. Depending on the day’s weight, the manager would allow a full or half pizza in the evening. Slowly but surely my weight started going up and up. I was eating really well, training hard, but riders who would’ve never caught me hills before started coming by me on climbs and then I wasn’t finishing races. Race-after-race, no matter how hard I pushed on the pedals, my legs just felt like lead. I was doing no carb days to try and keep the weight off. Then getting so depressed when it wasn’t happening, I would crack and go down the café with WiFi and eat seven pain-au-chocolat in a row and drinking 12 lattes. The owner of the café rang my manager and snitched on me.
DK: And you thought you’d just hit your ceiling in the sport?
TK: Yes. I called my mum up and told her I was quitting. My mum and dad were totally supportive. They never forced Pete and I to take up cycling and my mum only started cycling after meeting my dad. I thought ‘fair enough – I’m just not good enough” so I called Keith Lambert, the GB manager, and said I was quitting. He said ‘just come and do one race with us” so I did. It was over my home roads, a race I’d really targeted earlier in the season and I was just going out the back on the climbs. I came down a descent I’d been riding for years and turned off down a side road and just sat there. Swifty and my brother were there around me and I was just sitting there with my numbers on. I moved back home and my GP proscribed anti-depressants. He said I was just low from having to give up cycling. I knew it wasn’t that and so I looked back through all my old blood tests and found a low thyroid result from a couple of years back. I’d been retested at the time and found to be normal, so the team assumed it was just a bad test. The truth was that I’d always had an under-active thyroid. It was just deteriorating as I got older and affecting both my energy and recovery more-and-more as I moved up the professional levels. I went to the Worlds in Copenhagen, when Cav won. I saw Rod Ellingworth there. I was four stone over my race weight and Rod said ‘what are you doing? You need to get out on your bike’. It was still thought to be chronic fatigue at this point, but John had offered me another year as a rider and, after running tests, I received a call from the doctor, who told me my thyroid was smashed. It’s a condition other people in the family had had so it all made sense at last.
DK: So then what?
TK: I went on the piss for a while
DK: Your Robbie Williams leaving Take That lost year?
TK: According to a few mates, I’d ballooned into Diego Maradonna – but that said I come from a cycling family and so it was perhaps relative.
DK: You’d been forced to quit racing. What was next?
TK: John had said he would support me for another year as a rider or I could do another job for the team, so I switched to soigneur for 2013.
DK: That entailed taking a massage course?
TK: Yes. Although massage is only 20 per cent of the soigneur’s job. It’s all about organising the meals, kit and schedule for the riders. It was great to have that work to do at that point, as I’d left school with just GCSE’s as I knew I was going to the Academy. I had some idea of what I could do long term with coaching skills, but my condition had forced me to make decisions far quicker than I expected.
DK: And now Tom Southam and John have had you take up some DS responsibilities?
TK: In this year’s Tour of Britain and a race in Ireland too. I’m working my way through the BC training courses and it’s also nutritional advice that I’m concentrating on.
DK: The main stream media is obsessed with sugar, but it’s carbohydrates in a wider sense that control body weight.
TK: Yes. Power to weight is still everything, but it’s the quality not the quantity of fuel that counts. Sugar is a pretty low-grade fuel source. It’s all about the right carbs at the right time rather than starvation and training. Some riders don’t have a weight problem, but even now the young ones will eat crap and, as that food is an energy source, if it’s the wrong kind of energy it can really affect their performance and recovery.
DK: You have started coaching online this year using the Training Peaks software to monitor your clients. Amazing to think that coaching has grown from the gruff bloke with a stop watch down the local track to working pro team staff like yourself monitoring riders in far flung countries. How does it work?
TK: Training Peaks is the system that Team Sky use to monitor the team when riders are at home. It streamlines everything. When riders approach me for training, they can be set up as a link online. We discuss their form, needs, their goals what time-scale they are looking at to achieve them. Using power meters, I can then log in and see every ride or training effort they’ve done as graphs and numbers. I have a regular monthly online face-to-face with each rider to just talk about how things are going and how they feel the training is progressing.
DK: It’s taken off pretty quickly?
TK: You have self doubt about your abilities and whether you can really benefit people, so the first person that signed up with me was a bit daunting to be honest. By the third and fourth rider, I was getting the confidence up and using what I’ve learnt with the team and from John and Tom. Training Peaks really helps, as you are looking at real figures and can say things like ‘so you aren’t hitting the numbers this week but it’s just a plateau’. You can compare their mileage efforts with wattage in shorter 20 minute high effort blocks and point out progress the rider may not have registered. It’s all about looking at the data, logging the gradual improvements and being available to analyse and support their progress.
DK: You have a surprisingly broad demographic in terms of pupils don’t you?
TK: That’s the amazing thing. I have a 58-year-old mum from Colorado, who does a few sportives a year and wants to be faster. I also coach a 19-year-old in Adelaide, who races competitively and she is just stating in what maybe a racing career. It’s a great mix of people. I have Felix English, too. He’s great at crits, but has had a couple of injuries this year and is playing catch-up. He has great potential for longer races and we’re working on that. It’s all about improving stamina over a longer period, as well as power and heart rate considerations. I’ve also been approached by staff on a couple of UCI top level teams, who need extra analysis and support for new young riders, so 2015 is looking busy across the board.
DK: And what’s happening in 2015 for the team job?
TK: Hopefully, I’ll be working on the Race to the Sun in Australia in January with JLT Condor. There’s been talk of the Tour of Perth, too. Then back to the UK and off the Tour of Normandy. Before you know it, we’ll be back at the Tour of Britain and we’ll both be a year older. I need to reduce my race days in 2015 to devote more time to my coaching, but I’m confident enough to DS races for the team too.
DK: As you are so young yourself, how do the riders respond to your instruction?
TK: I say ‘well your all over-18 now, so what do you think you should be doing?’. Giving a bit of ownership works.
DK: Are you going to continue as a DS?
TK: Maybe. It’s a tiring job to do. It’s a lot of days away from home and sometimes six hours a day in the car. There may not be much happening in the race, but you are concentrating all the time, so the stress is there. I’m not sure I would want to do it 200 days-a-year.
DK: I suppose then you’re not getting much riding in yourself?
TK: I’m so unfit at the moment. But when I do go out, I just can’t go slow, so I tend to go out for a couple of hours and then crash on the sofa all afternoon. I go out with Pete more than anyone, as he goes slow on the hills and waits for me. We’ve been riding together since we were kids, but he’s away racing and I’m away, so we have a week at home coming up and we’ll do a few café rides. It’s nice.
DK: Neither of you have anything to prove really?
TK: We’ve never really been rivals and we are each other’s biggest fans.
DK: I first started covering races with the tour series in 2010 and the sport has grown so much in public awareness – even in five years. With Pete riding for Team Sky, you must have noticed such a change. The growing star status that riders and teams now have their mega fans?
TK: It’s massive. So weird. People are so interested now. When you go to the Tour of Britain now, it gives me chills in the spine to see the excitement. Look what our little sport as become. It makes me smile to see everyone out on the roads watching and learning about the sport now. Quite incredible really.
For more information about Tim – or if you’re interested in being coached by him – head over to http://www.timkennaughcoaching.co.uk/ or look him up via Twitter @timkennaugh