After a long, long wait – 838 days to be precise – the National Road Championships return to the UK this week, 14-17 October.
The time trial competitions begin proceedings on Thursday on a challenging route in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Alex Dowsett and Alice Barnes are both back to defend their titles, and they will be up against stacked fields gunning for the honour of wearing the red and blue bands of the national champions’ jersey.
What is it?
Quite simply: an annual contest to decide who are the best time trialists (men, women, elite, U23) in the country. The winners get to wear the fabled national stripes on their time trial skinsuits for the following year.
The men’s national time trial championships go as far back as 1995, with the women’s championships starting in 2000. The U23 contest for men began in 2004. But the women have only ever had two U23 competitions, in 2017 and 2019, so it’s welcome to see it retained this year. Alex Dowsett and Stuart Dangerfield hold the record for the number of wins in the men’s competition (6), while Wendy Houvenaghel has the most women’s competition victories (4).
The time trial course is set in the Lincolnshire Wolds, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty north-east of Lincoln. It takes in a 15.3 km sporting circuit featuring over 200 m of climbing, starting and finishing in the village of Tealby, once home to Elton John’s long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin.
The under-23 women, under-23 men and elite women will set a time over two laps of the route, totalling 29.4 km, while the elite men will complete three laps, totalling 44.7 km. The final lap is slightly shorter than the others, with the finish line positioned a few hundred metres before the start ramp.
From Tealby, riders will head west on a flat, relatively straight road for about 4 kilometres until they reach the outskirts of Market Rasen. From here they take a sharp right to head north-east toward Walesby.
There’s might only be one climb on the course – Walesby Hill – but it’s a tough one; “a bastard of a little climb”, as one participant described it to us. And it’s on the road to Walesby that this ‘little climb’ begins. It is around 2.4 km long, with an average gradient of 4.1%. That may seem pretty benign, but it does get as steep as 9-10% in places according to VeloViewer. A drag strip this is not.
Once the riders reach the top of the official climb, there is still a little more ascent to go. Once the riders turn right onto the B1225, however, the road begins to gradually descend on a rolling road.
There is then a sharp right onto Papermill Lane, a road that takes the riders back into Tealby. It’s here that the descent begins in earnest. There is a particularly steep and technical left turn which may catch the riders out. Once negotiated, though, the riders should fly like rocket men and women* back into Tealby.
*Obligatory Elton John pun. Sorry!
U23 men’s time trial
We were about to put a big fat highlighter pen around Ethan Vernon‘s name until the new Deceuninck-QuickStep signing withdrew from the race, with injury issues hampering his preparation.
With Vernon out of the equation, our tip is TRINITY Road Racing’s Ben Turner. Turner seems to be in good form after recovering from his horror crash at the Tour de l’Avenir this year. Turner has been a revelation this season on the road. He finished third in the ITT at the Baby Giro earlier this year and this course should suit him down to the ground
Others to look out for?
Renaissance man Leo Hayter (Development Team DSM), is in fine form. He bounced back from mental health struggles to win the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and a stage at the Tour de Bretagne last month. He is an excellent time triallist (8th in the world championships as a junior) and is well capable of following in the footsteps of the current U23 time trial champion – his brother Ethan.
Sam Watson (Team Inspired) and Ollie Rees (TRINITY Racing) have both been testing themselves in the run-up to this event and whilst they might not be regarded as natural testers, they are capable of reaching the podium. Harrison Wood (SEG Racing Academy) is a good time triallist; he finished 10th in this event as a first-year U23 in 2019 and will be hoping he has recovered from injury sufficiently to show what he can do. His teammate Tom Day is another strong tester and on his, well, day, could easily finish in the top ten or better. Joe Laverick (Axeon Hagens Berman) and Oscar Onley (Development Team DSM) are also capable of a good result if the form is there.
Finally, Lewis Askey is last off and incredibly powerful; having only ridden a TT bike once this year, it will be interesting to see if he can pull off a result.
U23 women’s trial
Our view is that the women’s U23 time trial will be a duke out between four riders.
One of those is our journal contributor and National Road Series winner Abi Smith (Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank). Abi is an accomplished time triallist – she wrote about her return to time trialling earlier this season here – and her recent results, against WorldTour opposition, suggest she is the one to beat. She was seventh at the recent Women’s Tour ITT. A shorter, flatter test than this, granted. But she was also 15th in the uphill ITT at the Ceratizit Challenge, so she can do hills too. She’s our tip for the win here.
Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM) represented GB at the recent world championships in the time trial, where she was 25th. She was 17th in the recent Women’s Tour ITT and we think she’ll be a podium challenger at the very least on Thursday.
Anna Shackley (Team SD Worx) is another contender. The 20-year-old Scot was 9th in the Women’s Tour ITT so is clearly in good shape. She thrives on the hills, so will like the look of the course.
A rider whose form we are less certain of is Elynor Backstedt (Trek-Segafredo). She is a fine time triallist – third in the junior world time trial championships attests to that – but she hasn’t competed since breaking her collarbone at the Trophée des Grimpeuses, so she comes into the event an unknown quantity somewhat. Don’t rule her out though.
Men’s elite time trial
Our favourite for the men’s elite time trial is Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers). The 23-year-old has had a phenomenal season and, despite a big race programme on track and road, he seems to be holding his form well into the late season. 8th in the world championships time trial shows he can be one of the world’s best against the clock and this lumpy parcours should suit him more than some of his challengers.
Dedicated testers Dan Bigham (Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling), Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation) and John Archibald (EOLO-Kometa) should all be up there too. Bigham arrives fresh from his British hour record. 16th at the world championship time trial shows he can do it on the road too.
Reigning national time trial champions Dowsett’s TT form is a little unknown compared to some of his rivals, but with an attempt at the hour record approaching in November, he is likely to be in good shape so must be considered a contender.
Archibald is another rider whose shape we’re a little unsure of. He won the RTTC National 25 mile Championship in August and then finished second in the ITT at Poitou-Charentes later that month. He was also part of the GB team that finished in 5th in the Mixed TT at the world championships. He’s a fabulous tester on his day – and was second in 2019 – so he’ll be one to watch.
Two other names. Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious) is an excellent time triallist on his day – 15th on the stage 20 ITT at the Tour de France for example – and looked sharp at Paris-Roubaix. He might just pull off a surprise here. Likewise Chris Fennell (The Independent Pedaler). He is an out-and-out tester and leads the CTT rankings this year. Don’t rule him out.
Women’s elite time trial
It’s difficult to choose an outright favourite for the women’s elite time trial. Joss Lowden (Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur) and Alice Barnes (Canyon//SRAM) were closely matched at the Women’s Tour ITT and we suspect the winner will be one of these two. At a push though, we’ll pick Lowden. Just.
Lowden of course comes into the event as the newly-crowned hour record holder. She then backed that up with second at the ITT at the Women’s Tour, just four seconds ahead of Alice Barnes. Lowden is a rider who goes particularly well on the hills – remember her 5th place at De Brabantse Pijl this year? – which we think will give the edge over Barnes.
Hayley Simmonds (CAMS-Basso Bikes) should go well. She had a disappointing time trial at the Women’s Tour (23rd) but bounced back on stage 5 with a daring solo break. She leads the CTT rankings this year and will be fired up for a good result.
Hannah Barnes (Canyon//SRAM) was on the podium behind her sister Alice and Simmonds in the 2019 national time trial championships. It’s a feat she could repeat on Thursday. 10th in the Women’s Tour ITT suggests she should be there or thereabouts.
Jumbo-Visma’s Anna Henderson perhaps isn’t best known as a time triallist but she won the U23 national time trial championships in 2019. 4th in the ITT at the Baloise Tour (ahead of Alice Barnes) and 9th in the test at the Healthy Ageing Tour (just behind Lowden and Barnes) demonstrate she is one to watch.
Finally, Alex Clay (The Independent Pedaler) is second in the CTT rankings this season and – like Chris Fennell – is a dedicated time triallist who is well capable of a good result.
Men’s U23: first rider off at 9.00.
Women’s U23: first rider off at 10.30.
Men’s elite: first rider off at 12.00.
Women’s elite: first rider off at 15.30.
The startlist has the start times for each individual rider.
How to follow
There is no live TV coverage of the time trial but there will be live updates via British Cycling’s social media channels. In 2019, British Cycling did provide live timing stats, although we’re not certain if these will be available this year (we’ve asked them to clarify but had no response).
Highlights will be on ITV4 at 7pm on Monday 18 October.
The weather is forecast to be dry and mild. It looks as though the wind will pick up during the day. Its north-easterly direction should serve to help blow the riders up Walesby Hill but and could prove a challenge as they turn onto the B1225 and back toward Tealby.
Featured photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com – 27/06/2019 – Cycling HSBC UK National Time Trial Championships Men Elite Sandringham, Norfolk. William Perrett