With the National Championship road race just a week away, the Robert Price Grand Prix of Wales can be seen as a blessing or a curse.

Will those with their eyes on the champion?s jersey want to go too deep this weekend, knowing that the field will be even bigger, tougher and more competitive in seven days? time.

Last year?s event doubled as the National Championship and was won by David Millar (pictured) ahead of Dan Lloyd, as the riders based overseas came back.

As one of Britain?s ?big three? road races ? the others international events are the East Midlands Cicle Classic and the National Championships ? the GP of Wales is prestigious in its own right, even if there are not Premier Calendar points on offer.

But having seen the Irish Pezula squad romp away with the prize in the East Midlands in April, the pressure is on the domestic squads to uphold their honour.

CW’S SEVEN TO WATCH

GERAINT THOMAS (Wales)
The Barloworld rider is bang in form, having finished the Giro d?Italia strongly. This week he?s racing at the Ster Elektrotoer in Holland, where he was third in the prologue. He faces a dash back to his home country on Saturday night in order to be on the start line on Sunday but all being well, he intends to make it. CW has spent the past few days canvassing opinion on who will win the national title and Thomas? name was right up there among the most popular. Unfortunately, he?s not racing in Yorkshire next week because he needs to crack on with his track training, but the level of confidence in him right now means he could be a winner in Wales instead.

CHRIS NEWTON (Rapha-Condor-Recycling)
Has been getting progressively stronger on the comeback trail from his broken collarbone sustained in training in March. Rode well at the Tour de Beauce in Canada, which featured some difficult stages, and will definitely benefit from that now he?s back on home soil. But will he prefer to keep his powder dry for the Nationals?

RUSSELL DOWNING (Pinarello)
It?s been a long season already for the Pinarello Prince but his form shows no sign of dipping. Utterly dominant in the Premier Calendar, he has suffered the odd bit of bad luck lately, including a crash in Norway where he cracked a bone in his wrist. Has made no secret of his desire to win the national title again so, like Newton, may not stretch himself too far this weekend.

ROB HAYLES (South regional)
Another rider who?s hitting form in time for the crucial back-to-back weekends coming up. Won the Beaumont Trophy in style last week and is climbing more than capably enough to cope with the Abergavenny race.

SIMON RICHARDSON (Plowman Craven)
Impressed at the Ras in Ireland last month where he had two brilliant days in succession, which yielded a stage win and a day in yellow. Plowman Craven have been on the back foot much of the season, picking up the scraps left over by Pinarello and Rapha, so must now be acutely aware of the need for a result. Richardson is improving all the time. A big performance in a race like this will prove what others have been telling him ? that he can be a major factor in the second half of the season.

BEN SWIFT (Great Britain)
Has enjoyed two big wins in Italy in the past month but crashed out of the Thuringen Rundfahrt under-23 stage race in Germany. He pulled out as a precautionary measure having landed on the shoulder he broke earlier in the year. Like most of the Academy lads based in Italy, he?s still pretty green when it comes to the vagaries of British domestic racing, so the GP of Wales will be a welcome reintroduction before the Nationals next week. His climbing ability will make him a threat.

DAVID O?LOUGHLIN (Pezula)
Pezula field a typically powerful squad, with Ciaran Power, Cam Jennings and Kieran Page all slated to ride. O?Loughlin is the toughest customer of them all. Can the British stomach watching the Irish waltz away with another of their big races after Pezula handed them a beating in the East Midlands?

ROBERT PRICE GP OF WALES

Sunday, June 22
Abergavenny
Start: 11am
Finish: 3.15pm approx
103 miles (167 kilometres)

LAST YEAR

Because of the flooding that caused the National Championships in Beverley, East Yorkshire, to be cancelled, the GP of Wales doubled as the title race and attracted a few stellar late entrants.

Among them were David Millar and Dan Lloyd, who eventually took first and second after a ding-dong battle over the closing stages. Kiwi Gordon McCauley was third in the race, but was ineligible for the British championship, although his third place in the GP of Wales classification stands.

1. David Millar (Saunier Duval)
2. Dan Lloyd (DFL-cyclingnews)
3. Gordon McCauley (Plowman Craven)

MY RACE

By organiser Bill Owen

The GP of Wales has been running since 1985, with a break from 1997 to 2001. Builder?s merchant Robert Price has sponsored the event all that time.

It has also been used as the national road race championship six times.

The course has always had a similar format, with 60 miles or so in the country, including the climb of The Tumble, and the last 40 or 50 miles on finishing circuits lapping through the town centre. A more spectator-friendly course would be hard to find.

There are some serious climbers among the foreigners who have entered, which should count for something as the finish is far from flat.

BATTLE OF THE BROTHERS
The Downings took a back seat at the Beaumont. Perhaps they?d been told to play nicely and let the others have a go.

Russell played the role of policeman for his team-mate who was in the break. Pete Williams ? we?re shocked to learn ? is a student at York University. He?s certainly bucking the stereotype of the lazy, Pot Noodle-eating, daytime TV-watching, layabout. Rob Hayles may not go in for book learning and all that but he dished out a lesson in the sprint that you can?t learn in a lecture theatre.

Russell won the sprint for third while Dean, who also made the little split at the front, rolled over the line in eighth place in the same time.

We?re feeling generous so we?ll say it?s honours even and the brothers can split the points.

Latest score
Russell 5, Dean 2

Pete Williams and Russell Downing took second and third in last Sunday?s Beaumont Trophy to stretch Pinarello?s lead in Cycling Weekly?s season-long competition to determine the best team in Britain.

With Rapha-Condor-Recycling having spent a lot of time racing overseas ? in France in April, at the Ras in May and recently at the Tour de Beauce in Canada ? they have taken their eye off the domestic ball a little.

Pinarello hold a healthy lead now, largely thanks to Russell Downing?s consistency, but it?s not too late for Rapha.

With two big international races ? the GP of Wales and next Sunday?s National Championships ? offering bumper points (15 for first, seven for second and three for third) they could haul themselves back into contention.

And with a six-man Rapha team plus four other riders lurking in the Wales team (and, controversially, eligible to score here) they could capitalise.

Halfords Bikehut have ousted Plowman Craven from third spot thanks to Rob Hayles? win at the Beaumont Trophy. It?s not over-stating things to say that Plowmans need a result soon of they?re going to end up in a pickle.

CW?s Superteam Challenge ? latest standings
1. Pinarello 61pts
2. Rapha-Condor-Recycling 32pts
3. Halfords Bikehut 18pts

ABERGAVENNY CRITERIUM

Friday, June 20, 8pm
Held on a 1.05-kilometre circuit, starting and finishing in Baker Street in the centre of Abergavenny. First prize is £1,500.

Teams from Britain: Rapha-Condor-Recycling (Graham Briggs, Dean Downing, Kristian House, Chris Newton), Plowman Craven (James McCallum, Tony Gibb, Simon Gaywood, Evan Oliphant), Pinarello (Russell Downing, Malcolm Elliott, Pete Williams, Tom Murray), Great Britain (Ben Swift, Andy Tennant, Jonny Bellis, Mark McNally), Team 100% ME (Russell Hampton, Alex Dowsett, Peter Kennaugh, Jonny McEvoy), Midland Region (Rob Hayles, Tom Southam), Wales (Dale Appleby, Rob Partridge, Rhys Lloyd, Matt Rowe), Pearl Izumi, West Region and KFS Special Vehicles.

The foreign teams: Pezula Racing (David O?Loughlin, Ciaran Power, Morgan Fox, Kieran Page), Ulan Cycling team from Lithuania, and Kalev Sport team from Estonia.