National road championships Previews

HSBC UK | National Road Championships: road race preview

Sunday 17 October. Route details, contenders, timings, how to follow & more

The Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix hosts the National Road Championships on Sunday, which can only mean one thing: a classic day of racing on the most iconic course in the country.

What is it?

The Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix is arguably the most iconic one-day road race in the UK. First held in the summer of 1956 – a women’s edition has also run since 2015 – it has gone on to establish itself in British road racing folklore. It has an illustrious list of past winners, featuring many of the greats of domestic road racing. Tom Stewart (Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes) and Rebecca Durrell (Brother UK – Tifosi p/b OnForm) were the winners of the most recent edition in 2019.

With the steep cobbled climb of Michaelgate and kermesse-style circuit, the Lincoln Grand Prix is often compared to some of the classic Flandrian races. Links with Flanders don’t end there either. In the 1100s, when Lincoln Castle was built, Lincoln was one of the wealthiest towns in England, thanks to its cloth and wool exports to Flanders.

A great cycling showpiece in its own right, this year the GP also plays host to the long-awaited return of the HSBC UK | National Road Championships road races, last run in Norwich on 30 June 2019. There are two races, a women’s and men’s race, with each deciding both the elite and U23 national road race champions. The winners then don the red, white and blue stripes on their jersey for the year (white shorts optional).

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com – 28/06/2015 – Cycling – British Cycling National Road Championships – Lincoln Grand Prix – Lincoln, England – Boels Dolman’s Lizzie Armistead takes first place in the Women’s Lincoln Road Race.

Wikipedia tells us that the national road 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 nine times in a row. Other women’s victors include Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead), Hannah Barnes and Laura Trott. The men’s race has a long list of well-known winners, including Sid Barras, John Herety, Paul Sherwen, Colin Sturgess, Sean Yates, Malcolm Elliot, Robert Millar, Roger Hammond, Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.

The reigning champions are Ben Swift (INEOS Grenadiers) and Alice Barnes (Canyon//SRAM), with both riders back to defend their stripes on the cobbles of Lincoln. Lincoln has played host to the National Road Championships before, of course. The last time this happened was in 2015, when Pete Kennaugh and Lizzie Deignan were the victors.

Course

The race features a 12.9 km circuit starting and finishing in the centre of Lincoln. The men’s race will be contested over 166km (13 laps) and the women’s race over 101km (8 laps). The finish line on Castle Square is the same as that which has been used for every Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix for more than three decades. The circuit is a relatively benign ‘kermesse’ style circuit until the cobbled climb of Michaelgate is factored in.

From the start line, the circuit is flat as riders roll north out of Lincoln to the village of Burton-by-Lincoln o the B1398. As they reach Burton, the riders turn left into a fast descent through the village which eventually leads on to a left-hander onto the A57. Here, if the winds are unfavourable (or favourable, depending on your disposition), splits in the bunch can occur with the danger of crosswinds being ever present. This section is too short to make a lasting impression, but it is the accumulation of this after several laps that can make a difference.

There is a short, shallow ‘feed-zone’ climb along the Long Leys Road which may appear benign but with eight passes for the women and thirteen for the men it will be attritional. And then comes the fight for positioning before the fast approach to the bottom of Michaelgate. Riders not at the front before the climb have little chance of moving up once the climb begins, and risk being caught behind crashes and splits in the peloton.

Then onto Michaelgate itself, the centrepiece of the circuit. The steep, narrow cobbled climb leads the riders up to the finish in Castle Square. It’s short – just 200 metres or so, but boy is it steep. It averages 12.9% and towards the top the gradients are over 20% – 27.6% at its steepest according to Veloviewer; a wall of 30-45 seconds of flat-out effort.

The climb leads onto the twisty finishing ‘straight’ on Castle Square. It’s vital that riders get their line right here at the finish if it comes down to a sprint, as we saw in the National Circuit Race on Friday night. Ethan Hayter took it perfectly and won as a result.  

Contenders

See the final women’s race startlist here. The men’s provisional startlist is here.

Women’s race

On paper at least, Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma) has firmly marked her card as the favourite for this race. She is phenomenal when it comes to classics-style racing, is familiar with the Lincoln GP course, and demonstrated with her time trial win on Thursday that she is in fantastic form. It won’t be straightforward for her, however. She will be a heavily marked rider for one. She has no teammates for two. And she is up against some incredibly strong rivals for three.

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com – 14/10/2021 – HSBC UK British Cycling Championship, Road. Individual Time Trial, ITT Elite Women – Tealby, Lincolnshire, England – Anna Henderson of Team Jumbo Visma and Joscelin Lowden of Team TIBCO Silicon Valley Bank after there time trial efforts

Alice and Hannah Barnes (Canyon//SRAM) are both contenders. Having lost her time trialling crown to Henderson on Thursday, two-time Lincoln GP winner Alice will be motivated to make it three and keep at least one set of blue and red bands. And Hannah looks to be in good shape after strong rides in both the time trial and circuit race.

Joss Lowden (Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur) is another rider in great form. She was third in the Lincoln Grand Prix in 2019 and has the engine and climbing legs to reach the top step on Sunday. She is backed by some talented teammates, including April Tacey and Alice Towers, both riders to watch in the U23 category.

There is a strong crop of U23 riders who are capable of taking the elite title, never mind the U23 prize. These include Scot Anna Shackley (Team SD Worx), winner of the U23 time trial on Thursday, Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM), Abi Smith (Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank) [Smith has withdrawn due to concussion from her crash in the circuit race] and Josie Nelson (Team Coop-Hitec Products). All four have demonstrated their excellent form so far in this championships. The form of Amelia Sharpe (NXTG Racing), Sophie Wright (Alè BTC Ljubljana) and Elynor Backstedt (Trek-Segafredo) is less certain but are all riders capable of a result on their day.

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com – 15/10/2021 – HSBC UK British Cycling Championship, Road. Circuit Race, Women – Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England – Abi Smith of Team TIBCO Silicon Valley Band leading the main bunch

Who else? The home team of Pro-Noctis – Redchilli Bikes – Heidi Kjeldsen field nine riders and will be buoyed by Jo Tindley‘s win at the National Circuit Race, so you can probably count on them to put on a show. The CAMS-Basso team have riders such as Illi Gardner, Becky Storrie and Natalie Grinczer who are capable of a breakthrough result.

One thing is for sure. The race will produce a deserving winner.

Prediction time. It’s hard to look past Anna Henderson to do the double. Let’s go with Pfeiffer Georgi for the U23 title.

Men’s race

Ineos Grenadiers are normally the time to beat at the nationals, and whilst they only have three riders on the provisonal startlist – Ethan Hayter, defending champion Ben Swift and Owain Doull – each is talented enough to take the win. Hayter, in particular, is in irresistible form after his time trial and circuit race wins.

Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com – 15/10/2021 – HSBC UK British Cycling Championship, Road. Circuit Race, Men – Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England – Ethan Hayter of Team INEOS Grenadiers in action

There are plenty of other riders to watch though.

Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious) has shown both his form and ability in classics racing in the Benelux Tour in September. He was active throughout the race and finished 5th on the iconic queen stage featuring laps of the Muur de Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg. Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ Continental) had a storming start to the year finishing 2nd in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. He has been a little quieter in the latter half of the year, but as a rider who has podiumed at the U23 Gent-Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders, he should do well at this race.

Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic) had a remarkable August winning the five-day Tour Poitou – Charentes en Nouvelle Aquitaine, before 5th place in the Bretagne Classic the very next day. Swift finished 6th in 2018 in Madison-Genesis colours, the last time he rode. The same year he also claimed the National Championships, showing his ability in this competition.

One of the surprise rides in the National Time Trial Championships was James Shaw (Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling). He showed at the Tour of Britain he can mix it with the best and with the form he’s in, he’s probably the best bet amongst the domestic team riders.

In the battle for the U23 title, Leo Hayter (Development Team DSM), Lewis Askey (Groupama-FDJ Continental), Sam Watson (Team Inspired), Ben Turner and Tom Gloag (both TRINITY Racing) are the riders most likely to take the honours. National Road Series revelation Finn Crockett (Wheelbase CabTech Castelli) is another young gun to watch.

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com – 28/06/2015 – Cycling – British Cycling National Road Championships – Lincoln Grand Prix – Lincoln, England – Etixx Quicksteps’s Mark Cavendish using the gutter to climb the cobbles in Lincoln.

Finally, we couldn’t end this preview without mentioning Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep). He was second the last time the national championships was held in Lincoln, beaten at the death by Pete Kennaugh. He’s a real racer and, after a staggering four Tour de France stage wins this year, we know he is in great shape. He may be 36 years old, but this man has won 155 professional races. Don’t write him off.

Predictions? Ethan Hayter for the hat-trick. Lewis Askey the best U23.

Timings

Women’s race: 9.00

Men’s race: 13.00

How to follow

There will be live coverage through GCN+, Eurosport Player and British Cycling’s YouTube channel (UK-only), plus a full highlights programme on ITV4 at 7pm on Tuesday 19 October.

Keep an eye out too for updates on British Cycling’s social media channels.

Weather

At the time of writing the forecast suggests there could be rain for the women’s race, which throw in an additional challenge. Temperatures should be mild for this time of year and the breeze moderate.

Featured photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com – 15/10/2021 – HSBC UK British Cycling, Road. Circuit Race Championship, Women – Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England – Lucy Lee of Team LDN Brother uk, Charlotte Berry of Team Pro Nortis and Danielle Shrosbree of Team LDN Brother uk crossing the start/finish line