The cream of Britain’s road racers come together this weekend to battle it for the title of National Champion.
Both the women’s and men’s championship are to be decided on a course at Barley, Lancashire, on Sunday (June 27) with star-studded fields competing in both.
Kristian House is defending champion in the men’s race after outsprinting Dan Lloyd and Peter Kennaugh in Abergavenny last year.
As well as these three, other big names to watch will be the Tour de France primed riders David Millar, Jeremy Hunt and Mark Cavendish.
Geraint Thomas is another rider due to start the Tour in Rotterdam on July 3. He’ll be accompanied in the Nationals by five Sky team mates: Kennaugh, Chris Froome, Russell Downing, Ian Stannard and Ben Swift.
Even with the likely absence of Bradley Wiggins and Steve Cummings (entered but not expected to start), the strength in numbers of the Sky team presents a potentially daunting prospect. Cervélo Test Team also have strong representation with former champion and Classics star Roger Hammond joining Hunt and Lloyd in the line-up.
Nonetheless, talking about the strong presence of European based professionals, House told Cycling Weekly: “It’s no different from last year. While they may not all have been racing on the same team, there was certainly an element of them all racing together.”
“They’re the same riders, so you go into this with confidence knowing you can beat these riders on the day – like we did at Lincoln.
“Chris [Newton] won in front of three Sky riders who were going very well there.
“As a team we’re just looking to get someone on the podium again,” added House, who himself is one of eight Rapha-Condor-Sharp entrants. “That’s the focus we went into the race with last year with. I ended up in a position where I had the opportunity to win it and I took that. I don’t think we’ll change the tactics much.”
2009 Championships: (l-r) Kennaugh, House and Lloyd celebrate
As well as the European based professionals – which also include Omega Pharma’s Adam Blythe and Saxo Bank’s comeback man Jonny Bellis – there is a strong contingent of British-based riders.
Chris Newton and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke will be amongst the Rapha-Condor-Sharp team’s other favourites while Rob Partridge and Ian Wilkinson are likely to be the protected riders in a 12-strong Endura team.
Motorpoint-Marshalls Pasta’s Ian Bibby has been going from strength to strength on the road this year and already has the national cyclo-ross title to his name. Sigma Sport’s Simon Richardson is another former off-roader whose name is being bandied about with the favourites.
Of course, the nature of the course should have a big bearing on the result. Set on a small circuit that climbs up the side of Pendle Hill (a landmark that dominates the area) each lap, British Cycling president Brian Cookson compared it to last year’s World Championship course in Mendrisio, Switzerland.
“I think its going to be a war of attrition,” he said. “I’m not envisaging that many finishers. It’s at least as hard as the [2003 and 2004 national] champs at the Celtic Manor [in Newport, Wales].”
Cookson will admit he has an interest in bigging up these championships. He’s heavily involved in the organisation and has a day job with the local authority who have poured resources into promoting the event and Saturday’s accompanying sportive.
Nonetheless he didn’t hold back in giving it more hype: “It’s going to be a real epic. Whoever wins is going to be an extremely worthy winner and a good climber.”
After a short neutralized rollout from the race HQ in Nelson, both races take place in entirety on a heavy going 12km circuit (tackled clockwise).
The start at finish line is on The Avenue in the village of Barley whereafter the riders will climb the mile-long Barley Lane to Annel Cross.
Two cattlegrids and narrow twisting backroutes make for a technical and staggered descent down Black Moss Road and Wheathead Lane. From Blacko the course then undulates towards Roughlee before a short hill about a mile from the line takes the course back up to the long flat finish straight.
“It’s very tough, all up and down,” said Brian Cookson. “Chris Boardman says there’s no rest on it at all.”
In total there’s over 300 vertical metres of climbing each lap. Multiply that by 15 laps for the men and you have an altitude gain akin to a tough mountain stage in the Tour de France.
“It’s a lot of climbing but its not one big climb,” noted Kristian House. “It’s similar to last year’s finishing circuit. I think I can perform and my team mates can perform.”
Jersey to the Tour?
Not since Sean Yates won the title in 1992 has the red and blue banded national road race champion’s jersey been worn in the Tour de France. Robert Millar might have done so in 1995 had his Le Groupment team not suddenly disbanded mid-season and forced him into retirement.
By rights David Millar should have worn it in the 2007 Tour. Only problem was – because of postponement due to flooding – he didn’t win the championship until August after the Tour had taken place. The following June, the championship was back in its usual spot on the calendar and Millar returned to the Tour without the jersey.
This year, with seven definites, there will be more British starters in the Tour than at any time since 1968. So perhaps this will be the year we see the national road race jersey reappear at the Tour.
Or perhaps it won’t. With Charly Wegelius not entered for the nationals and Bradley Wiggins and Steve Cummings not expected to start, it leaves just Millar, Jeremy Hunt, Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas with that added incentive at the Nationals.
David Millar won the jersey in 2007 but didn’t get to wear it at the Tour.
Where and when
Sunday, June 27
British women’s Road Race Championships
Start: Barley, 8:30AM
Finish: Barley, approx.12:00pm
8 laps, 96km
British men’s Road Race Championships
Start: Barley, 12:30pm
Finish: Barley, approx. 5:30pm
15 laps, 180km
The village of Barley is situated approximately two miles northwest of Nelson in Lancashire.
With both men and women’s races taking place on the same day, the nationals present a mouth-watering prospect for spectators. Those out at the roadside all day should see the riders come past at least 23 times. There should not be more than 20 minutes between each passage of the races.
To keep spectators entertained during these intervals, the organisers have laid on facilities around the finish area in Barley.
“We’ve got a bike show with things going on all day,” said Brian Cookson. “There’ll be a big screen [showing live race action]. Lots of people, places to eat, people to see. It’s going to be fantastic.”
With the circuit completely closed to traffic, one thing spectators won’t be able to do is bike it in the opposite direction.
“Bring your walking boots,” Cookson suggested instead. “We’re having a spectators’ plan with all the places on the circuit accessible by footpath and bridleway. It’s a beautiful part of the world and the main climb is within walking distance of the finish area.”
According to the organisation the best places to watch the race are Barley, Roughlee and the top of the climb near Annel Cross. There’ll be public toilets in these places.
Access to the main spectators car park in Barley will be signed from junction 13 of the M65 – as will separate disabled parking for blue badge holders. For spectators hoping to take up position at the top of the climb, a Park and Ride service will operate from Downham village. This will be signposted from the A59.
If you can’t watch the race in person, then there’s always British Eurosport. For the first time they’ll be providing live coverage of the men’s championship. This will be on British Eurosport 2 between 3pm and 5:45pm. Highlights of both the men’s and women’s championship will then be shown on British Eurosport on Monday (June 28) at 2.45pm and 4.15pm respectively.
(Full start list)
Geraint Thomas ***** No stranger to the National Champs podium having placed third aged 20 in 2006. Should be in prime condition for the Tour, boosted with confidence from his ride at the Dauphine and able to rely on support from five strong team mates (all potential contenders really).
David Millar ***** A tough selective course should suit the 2007 champion, though he’s a one-man team for the championship. The question is how hard will those down for the Tour want to push themselves?
Russell Downing **** Possibly the hungriest rider in British cycling. Has the form, nous and killer instinct to pull off a repeat of his 2005 title. Has he got the climbing legs?
Dan Lloyd **** Always the bridesmaid. Has finished in the first four for the last three years. In good enough form to be named Cervélo’s first reserve for the Tour and may feel he has a point to prove.
Chris Newton *** Highly experienced domestic scene rider who was able to get the better of three Sky riders in the Lincoln GP. Showed recent form to also take the Beaumont Trophy.
Jeremy Hunt *** Currently on a high following his selection for the Tour de France for the first time in 15 years as a professional. Knows how to pull out the stops for the Nationals.
Peter Kennaugh *** A prodigious talent who represents another prospect for Sky. Has been on the podium at the nationals for the past two years and was last seen getting stuck in at the Dauphine.
Simon Richardson *** Took a good solo win at the Tour of the Reservoir earlier in the year and was second behind Newton at the Beaumont Trophy. The tough course suits his style.
Kristian House ** Did the business last year against a similarly high-profile field. Opted out of recent rounds of the Premier Calendar and Tour Series to rest for this race.
Ian Wilkinson ** Coming from nearby Barnoldswick, Wilko knows these roads like the back of his hand. Better suited to less hilly races but would be a highly popular winner
Mark Cavendish ** Not really a course best suited to Cav’s abilities. Neither has he shown the form this year to be up there on such a selective route. Can not be ruled out, though.
Roger Hammond ** Has gone quiet since a good showing in the Classics but won the Nationals for two years in a row when it was held on a similarly tough course in Newport.
Bradley Wiggins * Almost certain not to start. But he should be in the form of his life, the course is just down the road from his home and Wiggins can be a fickle character.
Rob Partridge * The recent winner of the Rydale Grand Prix has performed well in the Pendle region before.
Ian Bibby * Another Lancastrian who has shown plenty of ability in his first season fully focused on road racing.
Dan Fleeman * A quiet early season could mean the Raleigh leader arrives fresh at Sunday’s race. Has ability in the hills – he’s the national hill-climb champion.
Previous men’s winners
2009 Kristian House
2008 Rob Hayles
2007 David Millar
2006 Hamish Haynes
2005 Russell Downing
2004 Roger Hammond
2003 Roger Hammond
2002 Julian Winn
2001 Jeremy Hunt
2000 John Tanner
1999 John Tanner
1998 Matt Stephens
If the men’s race seems unpredictable, the preceding women’s championship promises to be a battle royale between two of the best female rider’s in the world.
On paper at least, Olympic Champion Nicole Cooke is the rider to beat. Ten times she has won the women’s championship – the last nine consecutively.
But with so much uphill in the race, Emma Pooley’s prospects of dethroning the queen have never looked better.
Nicole Cooke wins last year’s title race
Pooley has been hotly formed this season. She edged out Cooke for the win at the Fleche Wallone, took overall honours in the Tour de l’Aude and most recently left all for dead in the mountains at the Tour of Trentino.
Also on Pooley’s side are two very handy Cervélo team mates: Lizzie Armitstead and Sharon Laws. While Cooke has been spearheading the Great Britain team this year, she is ostensibly a lone ranger at the Nationals, riding under the name of her own website.
Other potential contenders are outlined below.
(Full start list)
Nicole Cooke ***** Despite not having had the best of seasons, Cooke’s history in this race says it all. That this is the year Pooley is being touted to beat her, will only drive her determination. Although Pooley is the better out and out climber, the persistently undulating course could better suit Cooke’s aggression.
Emma Pooley ***** Can climb like no-one else in the race. Opened a four minute gap on a 40km drag in the recent Tour of Trentino but will need to use her talents efficiently to get rid of her rivals on the one mile ascent of Barley Lane. Sprinting out the finish is not an option.
Sharon Laws **** Good, strong climber with lots of consistent placings this year. Brought up in Africa, should be good in the warmth expected on Sunday.
Lizzie Armitstead **** Wouldn’t claim to be the best climber in the bunch but proved her ability at the highest level with a stage win in the Tour de l’Aude.Took second in a Cooke-Pooley sandwich last year.
Catherine Williamson *** Another decent climber who’s been fourth in the nationals twice before. Could be knocking on the door of a podium finish this year.
Katie Colclough *** Belgian based Academy rider who’s been riding under the captaincy of Nicole Cooke most of the year. Fifth in 2009.
Dani King *** Has seven wins under her belt already this season and equipped with a great finish.
Nikki Harris ** A Belgian based talent on the track, road and off it.
Lucy Martin ** Academy rider has ridden well while supporting Nicole Cooke this year; course may not suit her though.
Emma Trott ** The Academy rider is a decent climber and appears to have recovered quickly from breaking her collarbone.
Jo Rowsell ** GB team puruiter who has been on the Nationals podium before. Her focus on the track may mean she’s not ideally tuned for a course like this one.
Emma Silversides * York-born racer and CW blogger returns from Belgium, where she has enjoyed several good results.
Julia Shaw * At 43 Years of age is still dominating women’s time trialling. Not the obvious candidate for such a tough course but finished 6th last year.
Helen Wyman * National cyclo-cross champion who finished third in the 2007 race. May be short on preparation though.
Previous women’s winners
2009 Nicole Cooke
2008 Nicole Cooke
2007 Nicole Cooke
2006 Nicole Cooke
2005 Nicole Cooke
2004 Nicole Cooke
2003 Nicole Cooke
2002 Nicole Cooke
2001 Nicole Cooke
2000 Ceris Gilfillan
1999 Nicole Cooke
1998 Megan Hughes
men’s championship: House wins in Abergavenny
National Championships website