The biggest and best field in living memory contests the men’s national Championships road race in Abergavenny on Sunday (June 28).
Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and David Millar all hope to add the red, white and blue bands to their team jerseys for the upcoming Tour de France, and take on every European-based British pro amongst a massive 190-plus field on closed roads in Wales.
As usual, the home boys will have a big say in proceedings. Defending champion Rob Hayles and 2005 winner Russell Downing are both strong contenders for Abergavenny and capable of doing it again.
The top UK teams have spent the last few weeks riding the Tour Series criteriums, leaving little time for big race preparation. Whether this will have an adverse effect on their performance on Sunday remains to be seen, but as preparation goes, the Giro d’Italia looks to have the drop over an hour hammering round Southport town centre.
And the foreign-based riders are, for once, not riding all alone. The big number of Brits placed in ProTour and Continental outfits is great to see and could also have a bearing on this race. Two Garmin, three Barloworld and four Cervélo riders are on the startlist. Will they ride as team-mates or are all bets off for the Nationals?
Solo operators, such as Katusha’s Ben Swift and SaxoBank’s Manxman Jonny Bellis, are looking good and head the next generation of champion material. When it comes to teams, the under-23 academy (riding as 100%ME) field no less than nine riders and have another talented Isle of Man native in their ranks, Peter Kennaugh.
The 100-mile race takes in one big anti-clockwise loop before returning to Abergavenny and hitting the shorter second circuit, featuring the famous climb of the Tumble. The bunch then faces ten laps of a town centre finishing circuit back in Abergavenny before crossing the line.
WHERE AND WHEN
Saturday, June 27
British junior Road Race Championships
Start: Abergavenny, 09.00
Finish: Abergavenny, approx.11.50
British women’s Road Race Championships
Start: Abergavenny, 13.00
Finish: Abergavenny, approx.16.15
Sunday, June 28
British men’s Road Race Championships
Start: Abergavenny, 11.00
Finish: Abergavenny, approx.15.15
For the men’s race, take the B4246 out of Abergavenny to the top of the Tumble for a top viewing spot. Once the convoy has passed and the bunch are heading for Brynmawr, the roads will re-open, giving plenty of time to get back to town for the 10 finishing circuits.
Organisers recommend the lumpy road between Abergavenny and Monmouth (B4598) for Saturday’s races, before catching the finishes in Abergavenny.
Above: Rob Hayles wins the 2008 National Road Race Championship
-Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) – the man is hot, hot, hot at the moment. Storming ride at the Giro, then came home and won the Beaumont GP for fun, blowing the rest of the British bunch to pieces. Will be too much for the home-based boys to handle.
-David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) – won the 2007 championship in Abergavenny so knows his way around. Rode his way to fitness in the Giro then gave his legs a test at the Dauphiné. Climbing better than ever and desperate to get that jersey back.
-Mark Cavendish (Columbia Highroad) – what’s going on? The best sprinter in the world not included in the red-hot favourites? Cavendish will have the world and his wife sitting on his wheel, waiting for him to do something. Will need to stay cool to stay in with a chance.
-Rob Hayles (Halfords Bikehut) – the defending champion is one of the canniest riders in the bunch and possesses one weapon in his attacking armoury most lack: the ability to attack downhill. He’ll need to get his move in before the Tumble, though, or he will suffer on the climb.
-Russell Downing (CandiTV-Marhalls Pasta) – the most prolific British winner over the last two years bar Mark Cavendish. Started the season slowly – more down to bad luck than anything else – but now firing on all cylinders. Last wore the champion’s stripes in 2005 and overdue another outing in the jersey. Hard as nails and a strong sprinter too.
-Dan Lloyd (Cervélo) – second to Millar in 2007, fourth in 2008, and due for a big result. Has stepped up a gear since joining Cervélo this season and eminently capable of topping the podium.
-Ben Swift (Katusha) – the Katusha neo-professional comes to Wales off the back of a run of fine form that saw him take a third on one stage in the Giro d’Italia. A strong all-rounder.
-Peter Kennaugh (100% ME) – Olympic Academy star Kennaugh was a surprise second to Rob Hayles last year and has just finished third overall in the amateur Giro d’Italia. He has also a strong team behind him.
-Chris Newton (Rapha-Condor) – bit of a dark horse at the moment but looks like being the Rapha-Condor leader for the day, so should make the final selection if the team ride to their strengths. Can he win the sprint? He is a former points race World champion, in case you’d forgotten, so can sprint several times over.
-Ian Wilkinson (Halfords Bikehut) – a big favourite with home fans for his no-nonsense, gutsy style of racing that netted the CiCLE Classic earlier this year. Will fight tooth-and-nail to stay up there on the Tumble but it could be too much for the strongman.
-Steve Cummings (Barloworld) – missed the Giro as Barloworld was not invited but has been riding strongly all season.
-Simon Richardson (Rapha-Condor) – won this year’s Ras in Ireland and came of age as a stage rider, but the lack of a sprint sees him lose out in single day races. Will probably ride in a support role.
-Jeremy Hunt (Cervélo) – two-time British champion. OK, it was a few years back now, but guess where he won them? Yep, the man from Devon loves Wales. Had a short and simple answer when we asked who he tipped to win: “Me.” Worth an extra star for the confidence.
-Mark McNally (Halfords Bikehut) – arrived with the big boys with his recent third place in the Beaumont GP behind Bradley Wiggins. Maybe not this year for the Liverpudlian but he’s only 19. He’ll be back.
Previous men’s winners
2008 Rob Hayles
2007 David Millar
2006 Hamish Haynes
2005 Russell Downing
2004 Roger Hammond
2003 Roger Hammond
2002 Julian Winn
2001 Jeremy Hunt
2000 John Tanner
1999 John Tanner
1998 Matt Stephens
It’s hard to see past the trio of Nicole Cooke, Emma Pooley and Lizzie Armitstead duking it out for the prestigious national champion’s jersey at the moment.
Cooke is aiming to take an unprecedented tenth win at the Nationals, but will be up against some of her strongest adversaries for years.
Pooley won the Grande Boucle Feminine and Armitstead is knocking on the door of greatness. The course is not as hilly as Pooley would have liked but it may well suit Armitstead who is a strong sprinter and the reigning scratch race World Cup winner.
Whilst the men will be assessing the tactical merits of attacking on the Tumble, the women’s race looks likely to end in a mass sprint.
Cooke will do well to watch Pooley, who soloed to victory in the recent Montreal World Cup, something she has made a habit of recently.
“I am not the kind of person who would say I will definitely win this race, but obviously I would like to win it,” explained Pooley.
“But so would Nicole and so would Lizzie [Armitstead] and every other rider.”
Above: last year’s podium, (l-r): Joanna Rowsell, Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley
-Nicole Cooke – a nine-time British champion, Cooke is the master of the Nationals and will have to be tactically outmanoeuvred to be beaten. Recently won the Giro del Trentino and has peaked just at the right time and a tenth national title is on the cards
-Emma Pooley – winner of the recent women’s Tour de France, Pooley may not have the course she wanted, but she’s certainly got the form
-Lizzie Armitstead – one of the brightest prospects in women’s cycling, Armitstead could pull a few surprises and she has a strong sprint
-Nikki Harris – fifth overall in the Raboster Zeeuwsche Eilanden marked Harris down as a candidate for the Nationals
-Dani King – recently crowned National Circuit Race champion, King is a team-mate of Cooke so will working for the Welshwoman but will be Vision 1’s contingency plan
-Leda Cox – has been riding well on the Continent against some tough opponents and could make the podium
-Katie Colclough – won a 100km kermesse in Belgium in early May, but whether that form will translate to the unforgiving terrain of Abergavenny remains to be seen
-Sarah Storey – double Paralympic gold-medallist in Beijing, Storey, can never be discounted and has been riding well all year.
Previous women’s winners
2008 Nicole Cooke
2007 Nicole Cooke
2006 Nicole Cooke
2005 Nicole Cooke
2004 Nicole Cooke
2003 Nicole Cooke
2002 Nicole Cooke
2001 Nicole Cooke
2000 Ceris Gilfillan
1999 Nicole Cooke
1998 Megan Hughes
Last year, it was Erick Rowsell and Andrew Fenn who dominated the junior men’s road race. This year, they’ve moved on to pastures new and will be representing the Olympic Academy in the senior race.
The results for the junior race usually read like a crystal ball for who’s going to reach the top echelons of the sport in years to come, with Charly Wegelius and Dan Fleeman both having won the event in recent years.
This year, the formidable Glendene CC will be the team to beat and will field the winner of the recent Tom Simpson GP, Joshua Edmondson. Not to be overlooked is Tim Kennaugh, who was a close second to Edmondson at the Tom Simpson GP.
Chris Whorrall (Manx Road Club) is also one to watch out for and is yet another very much up-and-coming young Manxman.
Sam Harrison (Planet X) is on home turf and is getting better with age as is Jon Mould (agiskoviner.co.uk), both of whom are on the Olympic Development Programme. However, the ODP riders have just finished an intensive week of track training, so it will be interesting to see how their form translates to the roads of Abergavenny.
As with the women’s race, there’s no Tumble for the juniors so it looks likely that a large group of riders will be arriving together at the finish. If the Tom Simpson GP is anything to go by, look out for Edmondson and Kennaugh.
Gareth Pugh of Cwmcarn Paragon knows his way around the junior bunch. Pugh puts us in the picture for Saturday’s race.
“This is the earliest the junior champs have been for a number of years, and there is no way of knowing who has been training and who has been studying for their exams. Some guys will come on quite quickly once they have finished their exams, and that does make it quite open.
“They won’t be going over the Tumble or using any of the finishing circuit, so it is not an overly taxing course. The return from Monmouth is probably the most difficult part. Jon Mould and Sam Harrison will know that better than anyone else.”
Previous junior winners
2008 Peter Kennaugh
2007 Rob Partridge
2006 Peter Bissell
2005 Ben Greenwood
2004 Dan Fleeman
2003 Keiran Page
2002 Jamie Alberts
2001 James Shaw
2000 Neil Swithenbank
1999 Charly Wegelius
1998 Richard Hobby
Official race website: http://www.abergavennyfestivalofcycling.co.uk/index.htm