An ultra-aggressive ride in the last lap of the World Championships saw the Manxman Pete Kennaugh claim fourth in the under-23 men's road race yesterday. The 20-year-old made a gutsy lone breakaway on the final climb of the arduous 179-kilometre circuit here in Switzerland, in hot pursuit of the leading trio. Kennaugh did not manage to catch them, but his fourth place equalled Rotherham rider Ben Swift's result in the same event last September. It is also the top result for Great Britain so far in the 2009 World Championships.
In a fast and furious race, before making his final move, Kennaugh had shown his hand when with two laps to go he single-handedly dragged the bunch back to a dangerous break of five. And though unable to follow when gold medallist Romain Sicard of France went clear, Kennaugh's late challenge behind Columbia's Carlos Alberto Betancur and Russian Egor Silin only fell slightly short of the mark.
Like Swift in 2008, the World Championships was Kennaugh's last race as an amateur in a year in which he has taken third in the U-23 Tour of Italy and the National Championships. Next stop will be the new British professional team, Sky. "I'm disappointed not to win a medal, but pleased because I targeted this race," Kennaugh said. "It was a real war of attrition, so it's a special thing to say you want to do well in a race and do well in it."
If Kennaugh provided the fireworks for Great Britain, the women's road race yesterday was a far more dismal affair, with defending champion Nicole Cooke forced to abandon with poor form. The Welshwoman's mid-race exit was the culmination of a year of dramatically mixed fortunes. A 10th British national road-race title had been the high point, but the flipside has been the financial collapse of her trade team and a virus that wrecked her summer racing program. "The whole season has been a level down for me," Cooke said. "It was a very hard race and I knew over the last few months that it would be difficult."
Cooke's withdrawal was preceded by a major crash which forced her team-mate Nikki Harris to quit with a suspected broken collarbone, although things perked up slightly when Britain's three remaining riders made an emphatic effort to up the pace.
However, fortunes dipped again when GB team-mate Emma Pooley, expected to take over Cooke's role as leader, was unable to play as strong a role in the finale as anticipated. She finished 14th behind Italy's Tatiana Guderzo. "It's better to be at the front and struggling than at the back," Pooley said. "You never know when it's going to kick off and you have to be present. I'm not very good at saving my energy and that's why I'm not very good at winning. But I like hard races and that's why it's so disappointing."
The final event on the World Championships program is the 262.2km road race today, with the Briton David Millar leading a nine-man squad.
As part of the biggest team Great Britain has fielded since the early Eighties, Millar recognises his role implies a "lot of responsibility, but I feel thanks to [GB coach] Rod [Ellingworth] we've got a great team ethos here. It used to be whatever happened, happened. But now we feel we've got a duty to perform rather than just get a free tracksuit."
On a course with more than 5,000 metres of climbing – more than in a major mountain stage in the Tour de France – Millar said the team's overall strategy will be to ensure he is in place for one all-out late attack. "Whenever it's a race of attrition like this it's always extremely tough. But if I've got one move, I'll make it count."