British cycle racing can look forward to reaching another momentous milestone this Sunday. The Lancaster Grand Prix will be the first National A road race for men since 1 September 2019, almost two years ago.
This is our in-depth preview of the race, with detailed analysis of the route and contenders.
Featured photo: Craig Zadoroznyj/SWpix.com – 09/06/2019 – HSBC UK National Road Series – Lancaster GP – Lancaster, England – Team Wiggins Le Col.
What is it?
The second edition of the Lancaster Grand Prix. This year the race forms the opening round of the curtailed men’s HSBC UK | National Road Series, the first time the UK’s top teams have lined up against each other in a top-tier road race this year.
The race was created in 2019, with organisers Brian Cookson (former UCI President) and Graham Jones (chairman of the Lune RCC) hoping to make a name for the race as a British equivalent of an Ardennes classic. The course has changed since that first edition, but the race retains a similarly lumpy profile, making it well-suited to the puncheurs.
The first race was won by Ian Bibby of Madison Genesis. Bibby has since retired, meaning the race will have a new winner in 2021. He won from a select leading group that day featuring three riders on this year’s provisional startlist: James Shaw (Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling), Max Stedman (Canyon dhb SunGod) and Steve Lampier (Saint Piran). All three are capable of making it to the top step this time around.
As in 2019, the race will start and finish in Williamson Park by the Ashton Memorial. From here, however, the route substantially differs from the course used for the inaugural Lancaster GP in 2019. In 2019, the race featured 7 laps of the old Dolphinholme circuit.
159.5 km long, the new route promises to be just as selective, however, keeping its ‘Ardennes’ theme. After a short neutralised section from Williamson Park, the riders join the main race circuit on Grab Lane, with the flag dropping just before the riders pass over the M6 bridge on Quernmore Road. Riding clockwise, the riders will then tackle a 14.5km long circuit ten times.
Each lap features 273m of elevation, including three leg-sapping climbs. The first of these is placed right at the beginning of each circuit, on Quernmore Road. Just under a kilometre in length, it peaks out at 13.6%, with an average gradient of 5.6%.
The circuit gently descends before hitting a sharp right-hand turn onto Postern Gate Road, which could catch riders out on the first lap. The descending continues from here until the road reaches the River Conder, where the next climb begins. At 2.8km along ‘the valley’, this is a longer climb than the first but far less steep, at just 2.2% average gradient; “a grim, heavy drag”, as one of the organisers described it to us. The climb actually featured on stage 4 of the 2012 Tour of Britain, for which it was called ‘Quernmore’ (after the village the climb passes through). The race classed it as a ‘category 3’ climb for its KOM competition, with Rapha Condor’s Kristian House taking top points at the crest that day.
The route is then flat-ish until it reaches a ninety-degree right turn onto Proctor Moss Road. The then riders descend until they once again hit the River Conder. It’s here that they face the third, and most severe, climb of the circuit. It’s just 0.7 km long but it averages a 7% gradient, with much of the last half at 9-10%.
There will be a prime at the top of this climb on each lap, with the first four riders across the line scoring 5, 3, 2 and 1 points respectively. The rider accumulating the most points will win £200 and the Lancaster GP KOM Jersey.
The race turns right onto Littlefell Lane at the top, but there is no real let up at this point, with the road running along a rolling ridge until a left-turn onto Laithwaite Lane, where the riders face a final rise before the descending begins once again as they approach the M6.
The descent is the steepest of the circuit, and the riders will have to pay attention here, with a particularly steep section of over 30% on the right-hand turn back onto Grab Lane.
On the tenth lap, the riders go straight on, rather than negotiating this treacherous right-hander, for the final kilometre back to the finish line by the Ashton Memorial. As you can see from the profile below, the riders are treated to a final sting in the tail. Between 600m and 500m to go, the gradient reaches double digits again before a technical, slightly uphill, final 500m. If a small group reaches this finale together, canny positioning will be as important as finding the last reserves of strength in the legs.
Riders to watch
View the startlist here.
Top-level racing in the UK has so far this year taken the form of criteriums rather than punchy road races, so rider form is a little hard to judge, but this should undoubtedly be a race for riders made for the hills.
The race also presents a unique opportunity for some of the strongest elite team riders to seize their moment too, and here’s why.
First, racing should look and feel a little different in the National Road Series this year compared to recent seasons. With Tour of Britain qualification out of the equation, we could see a more open style of racing, with teams prepared to take more risks to win races rather than defend qualification spots.
Second, it also means some of the UCI Continental teams have committed some of their best riders to other races this weekend. SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling are over at the Volta a Portugal, while TRINITY Racing are at the GP Jef Scherens and also have Tom Gloag and Ben Turner representing Great Britain at the Tour de l’Avenir along with half of the GB Senior Academy.
We’ve only seen a provisional startlist so far, which is likely to change somewhat, but where does all that leave us?
James Shaw (Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling) is the name that immediately jumps out. Second in the race last time around and in glittering form at the Tour of Slovenia in June, this course seems tailormade for him. Like many riders here, he’ll be ramping up his form for September’s Tour of Britain, so he should be in good – if not tiptop – shape. If Shaw’s race goes wrong, his 23-year-old teammate Zeb Kyffin is a rider who seems on the verge of a breakthough result in a race like this.
If James Shaw is the main rider to watch, Canyon dhb SunGod will be the main team to watch. With strength in numbers, they will be the team that the rest of the peloton look to to shape the race. Their talisman Rory Townsend came down in a crash in Guisborough at the Tour Series on Sunday, so his participation is uncertain as we write. Nevertheless, they should have plenty of cards to play, whatever the make-up of the squad. Looking at the provisional startlist, Max Stedman, Jacob Scott and Rob Scott are all riders capable of pulling off the win. Stedman, Tour of Antalya winner in 2019, is the archetypal rider for this type of course, despite never quite (yet) winning a big domestic one-day race. Jacob Scott is in fine form, having won the national marathon MTB championships last weekend, beating Connor Swift amongst others. He won the hilly South Coast Classic in 2019 and could take his second National Road Series win here. His namesake Rob Scott, meanwhile, has also been in excellent form so far this season and his aggressive style of racing could pay dividends here.
Who else to watch? The ever-strong 37-year-old Steve Lampier (Saint Piran) was 5th in 2019 and this is a course that should suit him once again. He has just finished a block of UCI racing which should have helped him hone his race shape.
John Archibald (EOLO-Kometa) is a fascinating inclusion on the startlist. The time trial specialist is perhaps not best known for his prowess in the hills. He’s an outsider for this race, for sure, but don’t completely dismiss him. He finished 8th in this race in 2019, is supremely powerful and will benefit from having ridden against WorldTour opposition on the road this year.
Another rider with previous in this race is our journal contributor James Jenkins (Richardsons-Trek). He was 10th in 2019, excels in the hills and he is coming into some great form.
Elite team Crimson Orientation Marketing have been regular matches for their domestic UCI Continental rivals so far this season, currently sitting second in the Tour Series rankings as we write. Adam Mitchell has been consistently finishing in the top ten in tough National B road races this season and will be a challenger if he continues his good run. Leon Mazzone is another rider capable of pulling off a good result, and Toby Barnes could do well too.
Veteran Ali Slater (Clancy Briggs Academy) is a rider that would have been one of our prime picks in 2019 when he regularly finished in the top ten at National Road Series races. He hasn’t quite shown that form yet though in 2019.
There are a bunch of under-23s that could shine here.
Oscar Onley (Development Team DSM) is an eye-catching inclusion on the startlist. The extremely talented first-year under-23 has ridden mainly on the continent so far this year, and has had his fair share of bad luck, including a broken rib at the Giro Valle d’Aosta. He goes very well up hills though, catching the attention of many with a win at Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc cycle sportive last year, a mountain time trial that took place on the same course as the final stage of the elite men’s race of the same name. Just a junior at that point, his time on the mountain would have placed him in 11th place on the stage if he had taken part in the race.
Another first-year under-23, George Wood (Cycling Sheffield) got his season off to a fine start, including third place at the Return to Racing for Big Dogs and a win at the Spokes RT Scottish Road Race. A knee injury and a cold then set him back but we understand he is back to fitness. If so, this could be a race for him.
21-year-old Ben Granger (Zappi Racing) is no stranger to hills, hailing from Cumbria, and has been in fantastic form of late, picking up a win and two podium places in his last three National B road races.
Scot Finn Crockett (Wheelbase-Cabtech-Castelli), Tom Couzens, George Kimber (both Spirit Bontrager BSS Rotor), and Jack Rootkin-Gray (Team Inspired) are among the other young riders to watch.
Wild prediction time. We think it will be a duke out between James Shaw and the Canyon dhb SunGod trio of Stedman, Scott and Scott, with Shaw’s former teammate Jacob Scott taking the spoils.
11.00 – 15.00 approx
At the time of writing, the forecast looks kind. There should be dry conditions, sunny spells and temperatures around 17-18 degrees. The wind should be fairly gentle too.
How to follow
There will be no TV highlights of the race this year after British Cycling decided to shelve TV coverage of the National Road Series at the beginning of 2020.
British Cycling will be providing race updates through its Twitter account. #NatRoadSeries is the hashtag to follow and use. We also expect the Lancaster Grand Prix Twitter account to be active throughout the day too.