The iconic Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix presented by Pro-Noctis takes place this weekend, marking the start of the 2022 National Road Series.
What is it?
The Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix is arguably the most cherished one-day road race in the UK, perhaps the last remaining of the true British classics. So integral is the race to the UK racing scene – past and present – that we have previously argued that British Cycling should bestow some form of ‘heritage status’ on it. Of course, it very nearly disappeared from the racing calendar in 2020 after struggling to find title sponsorship, before Rapha stepped in to save this road racing treasure.
First held in the summer of 1956 – a women’s edition has also run since 2015 – it has established itself in British road racing folklore. With the steep cobbled climb of Michaelgate and its kermesse-style circuit, the Grand Prix is often compared to some of the classic Flandrian races. Links with Flanders don’t end with the parcours 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, the Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix is also the opening round of the 2022 National Road Series, the first full Series since the pre-pandemic days of 2019.
The race has an illustrious list of past winners featuring many of the greats of domestic road racing. In the men’s race, these include four-time winners Paul Curran and Russell Downing, Chris Walker, Brian Smith, Steve Joughin, Chris Lillywhite, Dean Downing, Pete Kennaugh, Tom Stewart and Ian Bibby, to name but a few. And in the women’s race, Becks Durrell and Alice Barnes are both two-time winners, with Lizzie Deignan the inaugural winner in 2015.
Last year, of course, the race played host to the National Road Championships in front of packed crowds in October. Pfeiffer Georgi won the women’s crown is rain-soaked conditions, while Ben Swift was the men’s race victor in slightly drier conditions.
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. It 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 on 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. Ethan Hayter demonstrated that to perfection as he wove his way to victory in the National Circuit Race last October.
The provisional startlists for the race can be found here. These are sure to change ahead of the race.
With Le Col-Wahoo once again eschewing the National Road Series to concentrate on their busy UCI race calendar, the two strongest teams – on paper at least – look set to be the UCI Continental CAMS-Basso squad and last season’s National Road Series champions – and home team – Pro-Noctis – Rotor – Redchilli Bikes p/b Heidi Kjeldsen.
CAMS-Basso have cards to play but Becky Storrie is their ace. Storrie has been in rude form this season already. This week she finished 8th overall at the Vuelta Ciclista a Andalucía, backing up her win at the Peaks 2 Day and second place at the Capenwray road race earlier this season.
Her teammate Danni Shrosbree is another contender. Shrosbree had a breakthrough ride in Lincoln at the National Road Championships road race in October, going wheel-to-wheel with world-class opposition on her way to eighth. A stage winner this year at the Peaks 2 Day, she may revel on her return to Michaelgate.
Pro-Noctis – Rotor – Redchilli Bikes p/b Heidi Kjeldsen is another team with options. 19-year-old Lucy Ellmore has been a top ten regular in National B races this year and won the Oakenclough road race recently on a hilly course. Teammate and fellow under-23 Corinne Side was fourth in the National Road Series last season, but is recovering from illness so she might not hit her best form until later in the Series.
Like Storrie and Ellmore, Olivia Bentley (Torelli-Cayman-Islands-Scimitar) is another rider that has started the season very well, with 6th at the Peaks 2 Day, 4th at Capenwray and a win at the RCR Fatcreations Women’s Road Race in Goodwood. The Lincoln course could suit her.
Team LDN – Brother UK’s new signing Sammie Stuart is a real powerhouse of a rider and has been flying this season. Third at the Capenwray road race, a winner at the Britsh Team Cup race in Coalville and second at the Oakenclough road race this year suggests she is ready for a big result in the National Road Series.
Welsh road race champion Leah Dixon has stepped down from the professional ranks to ambitious elite team Bianchi Hunt Morvélo this season. She shone in Lincoln in October, finishing third in the elite time trial and then continuously driving the bunch after narrowly missing the move in the road race, rolling in an eventual 13th. She started the year well, finshing second overall at the Peaks 2 Day, and is the type of rider who could this race on her day.
Millie Couzens (Planter-Pura) was the British junior road race champion last year and she has started her senior career with aplomb, so we are excited to see how she fares in Lincoln. She has been thrown into the deep this season, riding Scheldeprijs, Amstel Gold Race, Brabantse Pijl, La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes and finishing all but the latter.
Who else to watch?
Two-time winner Becky Durrell (Team Spectra Wiggle p/b Vitus) returns to the race after coming back to racing from maternity leave. She hasn’t quite hit her form of old as yet, but if anyone knows how to win this race it is here.
20 year-old Lucy Gadd (Storey Racing) was a regular in the top 20 in National Road Series races last year and now, a season on, could be ready to break into the top ten. She has won both of the season’s U23 Women’s National Series races so far (the Witham Hall Grand Prix and the Velomax Junior Road Race) so it will be interesting to see how she fares against senior race opposition.
Finally, our journal contributor Abbie Manley (Isorex No Aqua) is a bit on an unknown quantity. She had an excellent cyclocross season and is now planning to hit the ground running on the road. She’s joined a Belgian road team but can she thrive on the Lincolnshire cobbles?
Finger-in-the-air prediction time. Becky Storrie to surge clear on the penultimate time up Michaelgate and power to a fine solo win, with Millie Couzens and Lucy Ellmore duking it out to be the best-finishing under-23.
The men’s field is packed with contenders, probably too many to do justice to here, but it’s probably fair to conclude that WiV SunGod and Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling will provide the biggest collective threats.
WiV SunGod have several potential winners. Last year’s National Road Series winner Jacob Scott is one of their strongest options. He was in excellent shape at the 16th Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic where he finished third and should be there are or thereabouts.
Rory Townsend was a regular National Road Series race winner in 2019 and this is a race he is yet to win. He was 13th at the Volta Limburg Classic and then 6th at the Arno Wallard Memorial before crashing out at Rutland. He’s been rested this week while the Tour Series is on so could benefit from being fresher than some of his rivals. Update, 6 May (15.00): Townsend has withdrawn from the race as he hasn’t fully recovered from his crash at Rutland.
WiV SunGod have other options too, including youngsters Toby Barnes and Josh Whitehead, who have been in excellent form in National B races this year; they could be the best placed of the under-23s even if they don’t run out winners.
Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling also have multiple contenders. The Scottish pair of Stuart Balfour and Finn Crockett are the form pair. Finn Crockett has won three National B road races this year and then finished 9th overall at the Tour du Loir et Cher before taking a brilliant victory at the Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic. He was the best under-23 in the National Road Series last year and his progression this year indicates he could be going places.
Balfour has had a more understated season so far but don’t let that fool you. He was in Rutland and seems to be in flying form. He’s a good climber and very able to look after himself on the flat, so the punchy, aggressive racing style that we so often see at the Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix could really suit him. The team also has Harry Tanfield, who is well on his way back after a period of illness. If he can be close to the form he was at in Lincoln in October at the nationals, where he finished fourth, he will be a real threat too.
It is great to see the GB Senior Academy (in their Team Inspired guise) fielding a strong team at this year’s Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix. Bob Donaldson, 7th PWZ Zuidenveld Tour, 9th at Rutland, and 7th at Gent – Wevelgem (U23) suggest a big result could be just around the corner for the 20-year-old. Jack Rootkin-Gray and MTB rider Harry Burchill impressed at Rutland too (finishing 7th and 8th respectively), so will give the team options.
Max Walker (Trinity Racing) is another young rider that could be on the cusp of a big result. He finished 5th on stage 3 of the Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux in March and was 5th at Rutland. He shouldn’t be ruled out in Lincoln.
Former Grand Prix winner Alex Richardson (Le Col) seems to have found a new lease of life this season after leaving the Alpecin-Fenix team in the off-season. He was on his way to winning the Perfs Pedal road race before a mechanical snuffed out his chances. Since then, he took a 1-2 with his teammate Yanto Barker at the Jock Wadley, won the Wally Gimber and then was victorious at the PNE National B. He is a serious contender to repeat his 2018 solo win.
Yanto Barker is also rolling back the years this season. He won this race all the way back in 2014 when riding for Team Raleigh. The 42-year-old is having a renaissance of sorts this year, returning to racing with a win at the Jock Wadley Memorial and finishing third at the Jock Wadley. He’ll provide a dangerous foil to his teammate Richardson.
Beyond the bigger names there are plenty of other riders we expect to see in the mix. Irish pair George Peden (Team PB Performance) and James Jenkins (Richardsons-Trek DAS) are both on the verge of breakthrough performances. Peden won this year’s Peaks 2 Day, while Jenkins seems to have building form nicely and could spring a result here.
There is also a bunch of under-23 riders to keep an eye on. These include Yorkshire Under-23 Classic winner Sam Clark (trainSharp Development Team), Trinity Racing’s Sam Culverwell, one of our under-23 riders to watch in seasons past, and George Wood (Cycling Sheffield).
Wild prediction. Jacob Scott to pip Stuart Balfour in a two sprint up Michaelgate on the final lap. Bob Donaldson to be the best-placed under-23.
How to follow
At the time of writing the forecast looks kind to riders and spectators alike, suggesting that temperatures will be 12 degrees at the start of the women race, rising to 18 degrees by the end of the men’s race. It should be dry and the wind gentle, so we should avoid the soaking we got at the nationals in October!
An evening with The British Continental
Finally, if you are up in Lincoln the evening before, don’t forget to come along to ‘An evening with The British Continental’ at 6pm in The Blue Room, Lincoln. In association with Rapha and Lincoln Bike Night, we have put together a star-studded panel of guests including Lizzy Banks, Colin Sturgess, Dean Downing, Becky Durrell and Dan Ellmore. Don’t miss it. Sign up here.
Featured photo: SWPix