National championships: the big boys win

Only one team was ever going to triumph at the British national road race championships: Sky.

Words by Kenny Pryde

Monday January 25, 2012

I had a chat with Team Sky rider Jeremy Hunt the evening before the British National road race championships around the North York moors, and asked him, only half-seriously, if Sky were going to attack right from the start of the race.

There was a pause, as though the two-time British road champion was trying to get his head around the idiocy of the question.

“Well yeah, we could. Why not? I mean, who is going to stop us? What are they going to do? Endura doesn’t have the strength it did and if we did attack from the start, I don’t think anyone could stop us. I know there’s a target on our backs and everyone expects us to win, but I haven’t considered any other option. We have to win,” noted Hunt without a hint of arrogance or presumption. The five-rider Sky team had arrived at the British Elite road race championships to get the job done.

And Sky did it with crushing efficiency after, yes, going more or less from the flag.

Ian Stannard won the race in a solo break with 13 miles remaining while his breakaway companions could only watch him go. Third-placed Russell Hampton (Raleigh GAC) could only watch him because he was on the limit, while Alex Dowsett could only watch because it was his team-mate who had attacked. All five Team Sky riders finished in the top seven and Stannard was ‘fresh’ from finishing the Giro d’Italia, generally good preparation for the National championships. Certainly better than a few national level Premier Calendars and one-hour televised town-centre crits.

Stannard had been the strongest rider throughout the race, spending so much time at the front of the break that it looked like he was working for Dowsett. “They could have added another two finishing laps to the course and all that would have happened was that Stannard would have been even further ahead at the finish,” noted ex-pro (and now British Cycling cycle sport director) Jonny Clay, “they are much stronger than anyone else at the moment, a real step above.”

But it was ever thus. A dominant national team with a budget and a decent race programme always rules the roost. Once upon a time in the UK it was the Banana-Falcon team or a visiting Continental-based pro (John Herety, Tim Harris, Malcolm Elliott, Brian Smith, Sean Yates, Robert Millar). For the time being, it’s the Sky boys.

But domestic-based riders shouldn’t feel bad. Sky pulled off the same stunt in the Norwegian road championships with Edvald Boasson-Hagen and Lars-Petter Nordhaug coming home in a one-two, clear of the chasers. But it’s not just Sky – the strongest domestic teams invariably produce the goods at the Nationals.

FDJ-Big Mat managed a one-two (Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Demare) in the wet bunch sprint that decided the outcome of the 2012 French championships, Omega Pharma were on the ball in Belgium to help Tom Boonen win again this year, Movistar had five in the top 10 in Spain, headed by new 2012 champion Francisco Ventoso, while RadioShack-Nissan were even more dominant in Luxembourg. Laurent Didier – son of ex-Renault Gitane pro Lucien, genomics fans - soloed in to win from a break of three which included his team mate Frank Schleck (inevitably outsprinted for second). And, for good measure, the RadioShack under-23 team took all three medals in that title race. At least Rapha-Condor-Sharp can point to Mike Cuming’s win the UK Under-23 championship. God help us if Sky decides it needs a development squad.

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