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National road championships: road race preview

Big preview with analysis and predictions from former national road race champ Colin Sturgess

The HSBC UK National Road Championships road races take place on Sunday 30 June 2019. This preview includes analysis and predictions from former British national road race champion Colin Sturgess.

It is an honour and should be fought tooth and nail for, something 2018 winner Connor Swift proved with a supremely gutsy ride against class opponents

Colin Sturgess

What is it?

It is what is says on the tin: a contest held every year to decide who are the road race cyclists (men, women, elite, U23) in the country. The winners then don for red, white and blue stripes on their jersey for the year (short colour optional).

Unlike the time trial events, the elite and U23 fields race together, with the U23 winners being the highest placed rider in the men’s and women’s races respectively.

In theory this race should be the jewel in British Cycling road racing crown. But in recent years, World Tour teams (particularly Sky/Ineos) have not allowed key riders to enter for fear of hindering their Tour de France preparations. This, combined with intermittent interest from broadcasters (no broadcaster this year was prepared to stump the not insignificant productions costs of covering the race), underwhelming promotion by British Cycling itself, and sub-par coverage from the wider media, has meant that for some, the race does not have the prestige it once had.

We tend to agree much more could be done to promote the championships and to ensure that the top riders turn up [note that in Italy, to encourage participation, riders who don’t ride the nationals are not allowed to represent the country in the worlds that year]. But we also think it’s still a very special race nonetheless. The British national road race jersey design, when done well, is an absolute classic. And it’s a jersey that every rider worth their salt should want to win in their career. Just look at what it meant to Connor Swift last year…

Connor Swift after winning the HSBC UK National Road Championships 2018
Photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com 01/07/2018

Anyway, we digress. Wikipedia tells us that this race has been around, in some guise or other since 1938 for the men, and 1947 for the women. The list of winners includes many of the greats of British Cycling. On the women’s side, the great Beryl Burton won the race an astonishing 12 times. More recently, Nicole Cooke won it on an incredible occasions. Other women’s victors include Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead), Hannah Barnes and Laura Trott. The men’s race has a long list of well-know winners, including a certain Colin Sturgess…

Starters

The men’s race both the Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic) and Rob Scott (Team Wiggins Le Col) back to defend their respective elite and U23 crowns. Previous winners Adam Blythe (Lotto-Soudal), Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data) and Ian Stannard (Team Ineos) are also due to start. Another previous champion, Steve Cummings (Team Dimension Data), isn’t on the provisional start list, despite his third place in the national time trial championships on Thursday. Chris Lawless (Team Ineos), Owain Doull (Team Ineos) and Scott Thwaites (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK) are all on the startline and are all previous U23 winners. Ethan Hayter (Velo Club Londres), Tom Pidcock (Team Wiggins Le Col), Dan McLay (EF Education First), Hugh Carthy (EF Education First) and Ben Swift (Team Ineos) are amongst the other big names to watch out for.

In the women’s race, the reigning champion Jessica Roberts is on track duties for Great Britain at the European Games. So she won’t be able to defend her title, despite being on fine road form, taking two stages at the recent Tour de Bretagne. Lizzie Deignan (Trek) is another very notable absentee, preferring to rest and build up her form for the world championships later this year. Previous winner Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) does start, as does her sister Alice (also (Canyon-SRAM), who won the national time trial on Thursday. On form domestic rider Anna Henderson (Brother UK – Tifosi p/b OnForm) is also starting. Other notable names included Elizabeth Banks (Bigla Pro Cycling), Lucy and Grace Garner (Hitec Products) and Katie Archibald (Team Huub).

Click here for the full startlist.

Colin Sturgess congratulates Connor Swift after his 2018 HSBC UK National Road Championships win. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Colin Sturgess’ view 

Colin Sturgess is a former track world champion and professional road cyclist who has also managed domestic teams Metaltek-Kuota and Madison Genesis

Take a moment and read through the list of riders to have won the British National Championship, and then think of the enormity of adding your name to that esteemed company. 

To take the red white and blue stripes back to Belgium and wear them for a year was arguably the biggest coup and win of my career

I’d been proud to have pulled on 14 National Championship and a World Championship jersey prior to winning the professional road race championships in 1990, but not one of these had been on the road, so to take the red white and blue stripes back to Belgium and wear them for a year was arguably the biggest coup and win of my career. You earn the right to wear the stripes on sleeves for life. It is an honour and should be fought tooth and nail for, something 2018 winner Connor Swift proved with a supremely gutsy ride against class opponents. Who will wear that coveted jersey on Sunday afternoon? Let’s take a look….

Unusually for a National Championships the 2019 road races are to be raced over what is essentially one long loop (yes, I know the men’s race does take in a couple of local laps at Holkham Hall) but it has been a feature of past championships to be held on circuits or at least a course with finishing circuits.

Men’s race route
Women’s race route

From a rider’s perspective, it won’t matter much – if you’ve got the legs, you’ve got the legs. However from a spectator’s point of view it’s not ideal unless you’ve scoped out the route in advance and can leapfrog ahead to catch the riders numerous times before heading back into the finish and find parking etc. Will it work? Let’s hope so; wait and see.

For smaller teams and individuals, feeding could be an issue despite the organisers having made allowance for three static feed-zones along the route. Interestingly BC seem to be sticking to the 2018 ‘feed from team cars at 50 km’ rule not the latest 30 km UCI diktat issued this year. With temperatures due in the 20s it shouldn’t be an issue, but it’s an interesting anomaly.

I feel the wind is going to be a major factor, along with what can best be described as rolling, undulating roads

For both men’s and women’s races I feel the wind is going to be a major factor, along with what can best be described as rolling, undulating roads. (For a real insight into what to expect ‘road-wise’ read Calvert Churchill’s excellent guide to Norfolk. I recall the Nationals at Lincoln a couple of years back where Sky and some of the World Tour riders decided to line it out early in the sidewinds; needless to say it caused splits and panic, and if the wind direction changes to sidewinds on Sunday expect similar, and riders to be spread far and wide.

Team strength (more exactly numbers) is a curious one in the Nationals as there is no upper limit unlike the eight riders permitted for a Prem. So inin the men’s race, teams like Canyon and Madison have numerical advantage from the off which should see them in good stead placing riders in any early break [see table below which shows the men’s teams with the most riders on the provisional startlist].

TeamNo. of riders
Madison Genesis13
Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK12
Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes11
Ribble Pro Cycling11
Richardsons-Trek10
Team Wiggins Le Col10
SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling8
Team Inspired (GB Academy)7

It’s not unknown for that first early move to stick, as proven last year. At 190 km for the men it’s a fairly long day in the saddle, which will play into the hands of the larger teams and riders that have been racing 200 km+ races all season. Winning a bike race of 150 km is very different to winning a bike race at 190 km. The final few kilometres back into the finish in Norwich is fast and with a few lefts and rights thrown in, look to the sprinters or a sneaky last 2 km attack. But my gut feeling is the winner will come from a small group, and this holds true for both men’s and women’s races. Don’t forget with both races there are ‘races within races’ as the U23 championship is up for grabs. It would be fantastic to see a stand-alone race for the U23 riders; but BC needs to get behind it and numbers need to up to warrant it. Fingers crossed for the near future.

So, who’s my pick? For the men’s race, my heart says one thing; my head another; but I do believe the World Tour teams and riders will want to take the jersey overseas, but one name that stands out for me is Adam Blythe. For the women’s race? These races can be so unpredictable, it’s a hard one to call. Pass…

Good luck to all the riders in all the races, and to the winners: wear that jersey with pride.

Dani Rowe of Team WaowDeals, Team Breeze’s Jess Roberts and Ellie Dickinson on the podium at the HSBC UK National Road Championships 2018. Photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

Timings

The men’s race starts at 9am and the women’s at 2:30pm

Weather

The forecast suggests it will be sunny with temperatures up to 23 degrees. There will be a moderate westerly breeze throughout the day.

TV

Both races will be broadcast via the British Cycling YouTube channel: the men’s here and the women’s here. The races will also be streamed on Eurosport Player and GCN.

Featured photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

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