Welshwoman Jess Roberts won a surprise win in a tense edition on the women’s British Road National Championships road race in Northumberland on Sunday. With three kilometres left to race the 19-year-old attacked fellow breakaway rider Mel Lowther (Storey Racing), and held on to win ahead of Dani Rowe (Waowdeals) and Team Breeze team-mate Eleanor Dickinson.
That no time gap was declared was proof just how near Roberts had come to being caught after the peloton desperately tried to close the gap which had reached 35 seconds within the final five kilometres. A small crash with three to go only slightly disrupted the chase, but took out both Barnes sisters, who finished first and second in Thursday’s time trial.
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While a fractured peloton meant there had been a lack of concerted effort to close the breakaway’s gap, the victory is a coup for both Roberts and the British Cycling Academy set up, from where Team Breeze is drawn, and a good indication of increasing depth in British women’s cycling.
How it happened
The 106.2km race consisted of three laps of an undulating 35.4km loop starting and finishing in the picturesque village of Stamfordham. Despite there being barely a metre of flat road on the course, the main feature was the Ryals climb. Only just under three kilometres in length, it drags towards and beyond two significant ramps, both exceeding 15 per cent, which is where the difference was expected to be made.
The 84 rider peloton were in no mood to wait for the climb, however, with attacks coming early on the opening lap, though none was able to escape despite the narrow lanes. An early crash left Wiggle-High5’s Elinor Barker, one of the pre-race favourites, chasing back on as the race approached the first climb of Ryals.
Over the top of the climb Dani Christmas, one of two riders from the Basque Country based Bizkaia Durango-Euskadi team, attacked escaping solo. By the time she crossed the finish line at the end of the first lap some eight kilometres later, she had a lead of 25 seconds on a chasing group of five riders, including Rowe, another of the day’s favourites.
Just a few seconds behind them though, with Barker back in the bunch and looking comfortable, the peloton were keeping a watching eye.
As they negotiated the meandering lanes of the second lap Nikki Juniper (NJC-Biemme-Echelon) and Illi Gardner (YRDP) were allowed to ride away from the bunch, closing the gap to Christmas at the front of the race.
However, the peloton were clearly uncomfortable with a group of three being away, and soon brought them back, the peloton approaching the second ascent of Ryals as one group.
Here though, four riders escaped, building an advantage of 23 seconds by the time they reached the line in Stamfordham for the penultimate time.
Natalie Grinczer, WNT Rotor’s only competitor, was joined by the Trek-Drops duo of Anna Christian and Hannah Payton, with Juniper making her second escape of the day so far.
With the four presenting a significant threat and, having missed the break, Storey Racing were leading a reduced peloton, with Rowe the sole Waowdeals representative, also doing some work to bring the leading quartet under control.
Their efforts were successful, and the break were caught as they approached the 20km to go marker.
With the lead into the climb on a narrow descent, positioning was essential if anyone were to make the most of the climb, and as it neared it was the two Barnes sisters of Canyon-SRAM who joined Trek Drops at the front. However, the race was not yet done, and Lowther’s solo attack was soon countered by eventual winner Roberts.
British Road National Championships, elite women’s road race: Stamfordham to Stamfordham (106.2km)
1. Jessica Roberts (GBr) Team Breeze
2. Dani Rowe (GBr) Waowdeals, at 1 second
3. Eleanor Dickinson (GBr) Team Breeze, at 2s
4. Anna Kay (GBr) Storey Racing
5. Megan Barker (GBr) Team Breeze
6. Elizabeth Banks (GBr) UnitedHealthcare, all same time
7. Emily Wandsworth (GBr) Team Breeze, at 3s
8. Henrietta Colborne (GBr) Bizkaia Durango – Euskadi Murias
9. Alice Cobb (GBr) Team TIBCO -SVB
10. Laura Mssey (GBr) Trek-Drops, all same time