The British Road National Championships begins in the Isle of Man tomorrow (June 22) with the individual time trials – and here Cycling Weekly takes a look at seven things to keep an eye out for.
Alex Dowsett (Movistar) and Hayley Simmonds (Team WNT) are both defending their time trial titles, while Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue) and Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) are looking to retain their road race crowns on Sunday (June 25).
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More of the same in the time trials?
Alex Dowsett to win the men’s time trial and Hayley Simmonds the women’s? That’s the obvious prediction.
Apart from one year, Dowsett has dominated the men’s race since 2011, and a sixth win in the Isle of Man would put him level with Stuart Dangerfield’s record.
The Essex man, though, cannot be complacent, for there are a number of riders who will be eyeing the title.
The main challenge to Dowsett should be Steve Cummings (Dimension Data). He hasn’t raced since April because of injury but is a late entrant. In his last two head-to-heads with Dowsett – at the Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of Britain – Cummings came out on top.
If he has recovered well enough, Cummings could well dethrone Dowsett.
Jon Dibben (Team Sky) – fresh from winning a time trial at the Tour of California – should go well around the 44km course, as should his team-mate and Olympic team pursuit champion Owain Doull.
James Gullen (JLT-Condor) is currently setting new national time trial records seemingly every weekend at the moment and cannot be discounted; the same goes for Raleigh-GAC’s Ryan Perry.
In the women’s race, Simmonds is the undoubted favourite and a win would be her third successive. But the likes of Katie Archibald – also Team WNT – and Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) have enough time trialling quality to threaten Simmonds.
In the U23 men’s time trial, Scott Davies (Team Wiggins) goes in search of a record fourth title. He finished fourth on GC at the Baby Giro last week so his form suggests that he is well placed to add yet another national title to his palmarès.
A struggle for the sprinters
The men complete two laps of the island’s famed TT circuit, before 10 laps in Douglas; the women do just the single lap of the TT course and six loops in Douglas.
The TT circuit, of course, includes the ascent of Snaefell: a three-mile slog up to the island’s highest point, although it’s more of a seven-mile continuous ascent from Ramsey. The parcours before the climb is relatively flat, but riders will enter Douglas straight after the descent.
It’s a demanding climb – the elevation jumps from near enough sea level to 1,400ft – and if ridden aggressively (as Nationals tend to be) it should shred the sprinters from the leading pack and leave only the climbers and rouleurs such as Team Sky’s Tao Geoghegan Hart and possibly Cummings.
That, in turn, should mean Blythe, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Ben Swift (UAE-Emirates) and other fast men can wave goodbye to their chances of glory.
Blythe’s team-mate Mark Christian, an Isle of Man native, told CW a few weeks ago that sprinters have no chance. But other riders have tipped Swift; the Yorkshireman, let’s not forget, finished second on Alpe d’Huez not long ago at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The key question is: can the sprinters make it over Snaefell either in the leading group, or within touching distance that they can bridge across in the final 10 flat laps in Douglas?
Either way, expect a reduced group in the men’s race to contest the finish.
Cav’s pre-Tour form
The short answer: no one knows what to expect of Mark Cavendish.
After three months out with glandular fever, the Manxman returned to racing at the Tour of Slovenia last week, finishing second on the final stage – a result that shocked even himself.
The main talking point of the weekend is likely to be whether or not he is to be selected in Dimension Data’s Tour de France squad, and his form in his homeland could be crucial to that.
On his day, he’s got enough power to get over Snaefell intact with any leading group, but his form remains somewhat unknown.
Last year, when he was beaten to the national title by Blythe, this writer wrote in Cycling Weekly magazine that “you wouldn’t back Cav as the fancied rider in the Tour’s sprints”, such was his lack of form. We all know what happened afterwards and, yes, the pie tasted good.
The point is this: even if Cav looks out of form this weekend and short of the power needed to be a threat at the Tour, don’t ever write him off. He thrives on being told he’s past it.
Can anyone stop Lizzie?
Tradition dictates that Lizzie Deignan (Boels Dolmans) should win the women’s road race. She has won each nationals in an odd year since 2011, so 2017 should be her fourth title.
Omens aside, though, it really is difficult to see who could beat Deignan. She’s the most accomplished climber on the startlist and possesses one of the world’s fastest sprints.
It is quite feasible that the 2015 world champion will jump clear on the ascent of Snaefell and solo to victory. But even if she doesn’t, and the race comes down to a sprint by the Grandstand in Douglas, aside from the Barnes sisters – Hannah and Alice (Drops) – there’s few riders you would stake money on to better Deignan.
It could be that a breakaway rider from one of the teams with a large number of riders – Drops or WNT – establishes a decent gap and thus leaves Deignan and her sole teammate Nikki Brammeier leading the chase, thus depleting their own energies.
It is wise, however, to assume that Deignan should pick up her fourth red, white and blue road race jersey.
Record hunting Pete Kennaugh
Few riders have as many incentives to win this weekend’s road race than Pete Kennaugh.
Not only is the Sky rider from the Isle of Man – he also holds the record for the fastest completed cycling lap of the TT circuit: 1 hour, 23 minutes and 48 seconds – but he could make British cycling history.
No male rider has ever won three national road race titles, and with Kennaugh already on two, and the course suiting his qualities and racing instincts, he could become the first ever rider to claim a hat-trick of red, white and blue jerseys.
With his long-term future at Sky not certain, too, being a national champion will only add to any potential interest in him.
Can the domestic riders spring a shock?
The six British UCI Continental teams are all fielding large squads, and there are a number of riders who could upset the odds and spring a surprise, à la Kristian House in 2009.
Ian Bibby (JLT-Condor) is in the form of his life, both home and abroad: he has won the Chorley and Lincoln GPs, won the Australian Bay Brits, finished second on GC at the Istrian Spring Trophy and most recently fourth at the Tour of Korea.
He also won the Manx GP last year, which also used the TT course, beating the likes of Kennaugh and Swift. He can climb, sprint and is a punchy, clever rider who could quite possibly podium.
The other obvious domestic contender is Tom Stewart, riding for One Pro Cycling. He has repeatedly shown his quality in stage races and in hillier races. He recently won a stage of the Szlakiem Walk Majora Hubala in Poland.
His teammate Pete Williams is one to watch, while Scott Davies (Team Wiggins), Erick Roswell and Jonny McEvoy (both Madison-Genesis) could all be in contention.
Will the weather have an impact?
Being berthed in the Irish Sea, high winds and rain are not uncommon in the Isle of Man, even in the summer months.
It is said that more often than not there is a headwind going up Snaefell, with crosswinds awaiting riders once they plateau out.
It is reasonable to suggest that the weather could have a factor in the racing, and a canny rider could use this to their strength.
We’re hoping this heatwave sticks around, but if not, nature could make this a very exciting double header of racing on Sunday.