Previews

2022 National Road Championships: road race preview

Sunday 26 June. Route details, contenders, timings, how to follow & more

The road races conclude the National Road Championships this Sunday, promising the traditional slugfest between the country’s top riders for the honour of wearing the red, white and blue bands for the next year.

Featured photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com. 2021 Men’s National Road Championships – Rapha Lincoln GP – Lincoln, England – Groupama FDJ’s Lewis Askey leads out of Castle Square.

What is it?

There are two races, a women’s and men’s race, each deciding on 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).

It’s a great honour for any rider to win this race, a career-defining moment for some. This is what former national road champion Colin Sturgess told us back in 2019:

“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. You earn the right to wear the stripes on sleeves for life. It is an honour and should be fought tooth and nail for.”

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 elite champions are Ben Swift (INEOS Grenadiers) and Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM), with both riders back to defend their stripes on the roads of Dumfries. Fred Wright won the under-23 title last year in Lincoln but is not at the championships (and has ‘aged out’ anyway), while Georgi took the women’s U23 honours when she won her elite title.

Course

The road races conclude this year’s championships on Sunday 26 June, starting and finishing in Castle Douglas, which successfully hosted a round of the Tour Series in 2021 and the finish of the first stage of the Tour of Britain in 2016.

Both the men’s and women’s races will be centred on two circuits. 

The men’s race will be contested over 201.2km with four laps of the longer loop followed by eight of the shorter, including 2,468ft of climbing. The women’s race of 128km is made up of two laps of the longer loop followed by six laps of the shorter loop, and 1,626ft of climbing.

The rolling longer circuit is 22.9km in length. Starting out in Castle Douglas, it heads out toward Dalbeattie before taking in Palnackie and then heads back into Castle Douglas along the B736.

The shorter 13.7km loop takes in much of the same roads as the longer circuit, but instead takes a shortcut back into Castle Doulgas via the B727.

How might the race play out?

The course may be flat and fast, but that doesn’t mean the races will produce benign, formulaic affairs that feature a regulatory breakaway and then a mass sprint finish.

Why? Well, first of all, national road races can be unpredictable affairs. Team orders can sometimes go out the window with riders gunning for individual glory rather than team success. But even where teammates cooperate, team strength – and numbers – is a curiosity. There is no upper limit for teams, which means some of the UCI Continental teams have numerical advantage.

Saint Piran, for example, had 13 riders on the provisional startlist, AWOL O’Shea had 11. Last minute illness and injury will mean these numbers are lower on the day, but nonetheless, the Conti teams can play the numbers game against their WorldTour counterparts, who have three or four riders each at best.

2018 HSBC UK National Road Championships – Men’s Road Race – Northumberland, England – Connor Swift (Madison Genesis) wins. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Second, these races are ridden aggressively. Lacking the control of a WorldTour race, the skill is often picking the right move. In 2018, the year Connor Swift won, the first major early move was the winning move. Last year in Lincoln, the formulation of the leaders constantly evolved. Having the numbers to make sure you have at least one rider in each move can pay dividends.

Third, it’s a long day in the saddle, especially for the men, who compete over 201 km. This should play into the hands of the WorldTour riders that have been racing 200 km+ races all season.

Finally, the weather. The riders face very high winds and driving rain. In short, the race could be carnage. The winds mean the peloton could easily break up in exposed areas of the course. Riders will need to be on guard for sudden gusts too. The rain will make the course slippery. And while the weather might be mild, riders may also (12-13 degrees), riders could easily get cold once they are wet through.

In other words, both races could be wild and unpredictable.

Contenders

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

Women’s race

A few names stand out for us. Josie Nelson (Team Coop-Hitec Products) is in scintillating form, having won the CiCLE Classic last weekend and the national circuit race on Friday. The cyclocross specialist can handle her bike well and has a handy turn of speed if it comes down to a reduced bunch finish.

Defending champion Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM) is another obvious pick, as is last year’s national time trial champion Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma). Both have all the characteristics required to win a tough attritional race, at home in classics-style contents.

2021 HSBC UK National Road Championships – Lincoln, England – Women’s Race Race – Pfeiffer Georgi of Team DSM and Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma). Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Abi Smith (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) would normally be standout favourite too, although she doesn’t seem to have quite reached top form yet after a challenging start to the season. Elynor Backstedt (Trek-Segafredo), on the other hand, seems to be back to near her best after a broken collarbone last season, so we expect to see her in the thick of the action.

Former winner Alice Barnes (Canyon//SRAM) can never be ruled out. While young Scot Anna Shackley (Team SD Worx) might be more suited to hillier terrain, she will be more than motivated to succeed on home soil.

There are plenty of domestic-based riders that could contend too, too many to mention here in full. The strongest British team, Le Col-Wahoo, field a powerful sextet of riders – four of them under-23s – so they could well come with the under-23 title at the very least. El King looked super-strong at the CiCLE Classic last weekend, Lizzie Holden is having an excellent season, while April Tacey thrives in this kind of race (she was 6th in Lincoln last year).

CAMS-Basso too, have a powerful squad. Their standout rider this season Becky Storrie is ruled out with Covid but with the likes of Sammie Stuart and Dani Shrosbree they have riders that could slip away to victory if underestimated.

2022 Rapha Lincoln Pro-Noctis Women’s GP – Lincoln, Lincolnshire, UK – Bianchi Hunt’s Alice McWilliam takes second place. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

We’re excited to see what National Road Series leader Alice McWilliam (Bianchi HUNT Morvélo) can do. Second at the Lincoln Grand Prix this year, fourth at the CiCLE Classic, the elite rider could be a surprise package here. Jo Tindley (Pro-Noctis – Rotor – Redchilli Bikes presented by Heidi Kjeldsen) is another wiley elite rider that could go well, while Lucy Gadd (Storey Racing) could be an outsider for the under-23 title.

Predictions? We’ll plump for either the in-form Josie Nelson or Pfeiffer Georgi to repeat her 2021 success.

Men’s race

In the men’s race, defending champion Ben Swift is one of an incredibly strong trio of Ineos Grenadiers contenders, lining up alongside Ethan Hayter and Ben Turner. Any of these three could succeed; Hayter in particular has to be one of the outstanding favourites.

2021 Men’s National Road Championships – Rapha Lincoln GP – Lincoln, England – INEOS Grenadiers’s Ethan Hayter on the cobbles in Lincoln, Lewis Askey and Sam Watson. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Groupama-FDJ perhaps offer the strongest WorldTour rival grouping to Ineos. WorldTour riders Lewis Askey and Jake Stewart are joined by three Groupama-FDJ Continental teammates (Sam Watson, Finlay Pickering and Joe Pidcock). Lewis Askey could thrive in the kind of chaotic race expected. Stewart isn’t back to peak form yet after suffering with illness earlier this year but youngster Sam Watson looks on fire and is a contender for the under-23 title at least.

Quick-Step – Alpha Vinyl also have options. A former national champion, 37-year-old Mark Cavendish can do gritty and, as many a detractor has learned to their embarrassment in recent years, he can never be written off. At the other end of the age scale, 21-year-old Ethan Vernon has a wickedly fast finish and might thrive on the fast course. He was unfortunate to be disqualified from the time trial on Thursday for going the wrong way around the deviation. They will have James Knox as a useful foil.

Connor Swift (Team Arkéa-Samsic) is another rider that many pundits will have highlighted. He is an excellent classics rider, strong with a good finish. He has already won the title once, in 2018, and has the form to do it again in Dumfries and Galloway.

Of the other professional riders, Owain Doull and James Shaw (EF Education-EasyPost) and Matt Walls (BORA – Hansgrohe) are all names to monitor. New Human Powered Health signing Matt Gibson has a very fast finish and can do well in tough conditions; we would love to see him get a result today.

British Cycling National Championships 2022 – Elite Men’s Circuit Race – Kirkcudbright – Scotland – Matt Bostock, Wiv Sungod, wins the 2022 Elite Men’s circuit race. Photo: Zac Williams/SWpix.com

The strength-in-depth of the field doesn’t stop there, however. The domestic Conti teams have numbers, and a few contenders too. New Saint Piran signing Alex Richardson is a dangerous rider – a lone breakaway specialist who can attack from a long way out. WiV SunGod riders like new national circuit race champion Matt Bostock and Jake Scott can compete with the best on their day. While Ribble Wedltite Pro Cycling have the Tanfield brothers and Stuart Balfour among their ranks.

Scot Sean Flynn (Tudor Pro Cycling Team) has a quick finish and is a strong contender for the under-23 title).

And who could rule out Leo Hayter (Hagens Berman Axeon)? Winner of the U23 Giro d’Italia and the under-23 national time trial crown already this month, another title (elite or under-23) would not be a surprise.

Predictions? Ethan Hayter to double-up and win his first national road race title.

Timings

Women’s race: 9.00

Men’s race: 13.30

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 Wednesday 29 June at 6pm.

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