The best National Championships course in years
Both road races were excellent. Many were saying that the races shouldn’t have included the finishing circuit in Douglas, and instead had more laps of the TT course.
While the climb of Snaefell did split both the men’s and women’s field, arguably the finishing circuit was what ignited the race.
In the women’s race, the six laps shredded a large group to three chasers, and the small climb towards the end was were Lizzie Deignan made her move.
In the men’s race, 10 laps was a punishing number and it become a war of attrition. Just like the women’s earlier in the day, attacks were plentiful on the course and the lead group was forever changing.
British Cycling deserve credit for creating such a superb course. It would be nice if future National Championships were as demanding and unpredictable, rather than it just being a race to a bunch sprint or a finishing climb.
Cummings is looking good for the Tour
Steve Cummings was a late entrant to the National Championships and had spent the last 10 weeks in his Tuscan home first recuperating from his injuries suffered at the Tour of the Basque Country in April and then riding the turbo. His form was a mystery.
The Dimension Data rider said before Thursday’s time trial that he felt his form was good. Oh, boy, it was more than good.
He beat Alex Dowsett by eight seconds and then on Sunday timed his move in the road race to typical Cummings perfection, jumping away from the lead group inside the final 10km to ride to a solo triumph.
The Tour de France peloton would have seen that he recorded an historic double and they will know that, if the parcour suits, and he’s near to the front or in a break, Cummings could well make it three Tour stage wins in as many years.
But Cav isn’t looking too good…
Out for three months with an ankle injury and then glandular fever, Mark Cavendish has ridden just six times since abandoning Tirreno-Adriatico.
On Sunday, in the road race, he was in the third group on the road all afternoon and was unable to jump across to the second group of riders which eventually merged with the leading pack.
Ok, the course wasn’t exactly to his liking, but fellow sprinters Chris Lawless (Axeon-Hagens Berman) and Ben Swift (UAE-Emirates) made the crucial selection.
Dimension Data‘s sports director Roger Hammond tellingly said: “We can’t tell you what is coming – we have no ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came 40th or first on the first stage.”
The road race was seen as a test of his form and condition. He didn’t fail the test, but he certainly didn’t convincingly pass.
The likelihood is that he will need a week to find his racing legs and will be in better shape to contest the latter sprint stages. But, who knows? Neither he or his team does.
Is Chris Lawless Britain’s next top sprinter?
Riding for JLT-Condor last year, Chris Lawless was the best sprinter in the domestic peloton. Road race or criteriums, he was almost always a contender and often the victor.
He was meant to make the step up to Pro Continental level with One Pro Cycling this season, but financial difficulties meant that they were demoted to a Continental licence.
Lawless subsequently moved onto the American development team Axeon Hagens Berman who have a rich history of developing world-class talent.
And Lawless, it seems, is the latest. This year he has won the ZLM Tour, most recently won a stage of the Tour de Beauce, has recorded three second-places, a third and a couple more top-fives in UCI races.
He won the sprint for second and with it the U23 jersey in the Isle of Man and given his history, and form, it may come as a surprise to learn that he isn’t 22 until November.
He is looking to move up to the WorldTour next year and you can bet that many teams are watching him. A special talent.
Scott Davies is the real deal
Another 21-year-old with a bright future. Scott Davies won a record fourth U23 time trial title last Thursday and was then in the leading group for most of the road race, only eventually fatiguing in the final few, demanding laps.
The Welshman has been building an impressive palmarès for a number of years, the most recent addition being a fourth-place at the Baby Giro, where he claimed three top-five finishes that included second in a time trial.
He is a mean tester against the clock, but he can also climb, as is evident with his wins in the Ronde de l’Isard and high GC placings in the Tour Alsace and Tour of Croatia.
He, like Lawless, is targeting a WorldTour contract for 2018. The Team Wiggins rider has to be one of the favourite for the Tour de l’Avenir, too.
Ian Bibby deserves a Pro Conti contract
There are multiple choices for ride of the day and one of them has to be Ian Bibby. The JLT-Condor rider is in the form of his life and rode to a superb third place, only losing out on a silver medal in a sprint with Lawless.
The 30-year-old has won races in Australia and England this year, claimed four podium spots in just five days of racing in Croatia, finished second on a stage on the An Post Rás and fourth on GC at the Tour of Korea.
He owes his form to racing stage races throughout the season, as opposed to just riding criteriums in the UK in May and June.
The cheeky Lancastrian has always had immense talent but, for a variety of reasons, has never ridden at a level higher than the third-tier.
He admitted on Sunday that he is now looking to ride at Pro Continental level and who would begrudge him that opportunity. There are certainly second division riders whom Bibby is above.
And let’s not forget, Steve Cummings’ greatest years of his career only really began in his early- to mid-30s. There’s still time for Bibby to impress for many more years – hopefully at a higher level.
It would be unjust to say Lizzie Deignan was too good for her rivals, for she had to work hard for her fourth national jersey in seven years, but it’s fair to say she was the superior rider.
She was the outstanding favourite and was always at the head of the race. She was the one who reduced the lead chasing group to three, and she was the one who wore out Katie Archibald (Team WNT) and Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) in their successful quest to reel in Elinor Barker (Matrix).
She attacked two kilometres from the finish and crossed the line convincingly. There are a number of talented female riders in Britain, but right now it is hard to foresee a time when the 2015 world champion won’t be the country’s best.
A deserving winner – yet again.
Track training = road form
We learned last year at the Tour de France with Mark Cavendish that track training is hugely beneficial to road form.
12 months on and it’s Katie Archibald – an Olympic team pursuit gold medallist in Rio – who is emulating Cavendish.
The 23-year-old Scot finished second behind Deignan, beating Barnes in a sprint, and third in the time trial. In 20 race days this year, she has recorded nine top-10s. It’s safe to say she’s in the road form of her life.
Considering that this is the first season where she has ridden a focused road programme largely uninterrupted by track racing, and it suggests that if she ever does hang up her track bike, an exciting and successful career on the road awaits.
Simmonds isn’t just handy against the clock
Hayley Simmonds was understandably disappointed with her fourth place in the time trial last Thursday, but her performance on Sunday in the road race was evidence of her all-round ability.
Riding for WNT, Simmonds has ridden across Europe this season and has showed some good road form, including a sixth-place on a summit finish at the Emakumeen XXX. Bira race in Spain.
She was ever-present in the front group in the Isle of Man and rolled home eighth.
She is targeting a third successive participation at the World Championships this September and made a point of telling CW at the weekend that she can be a key player in Lizzie Deignan’s attempt to win gold, just as she was in Richmond two years ago.
Time trialling remains Simmonds’ forte, but she is beginning to show that she is not just a one trick pony.