May 11, 2018 | 4months | Race Reports
Bradley Wiggins wins in Stamfordham in 2011, the last time we hosted the National Road Championships
The Course: The men race over six laps of beautiful Northumberland countryside, starting and finishing in Stamfordham, a picture-postcard village just a few miles to the West of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. A shorter first lap of 13.7 miles is followed by four circuits of a longer – 22miles – lap, before a final loop round the shorter lap again.
For many, it’s the four longer laps that will really shape that race, as this 22 mile circuit includes the triple-ramped Ryals climb, plus the particularly narrow approach roads before the climb. This means that for much of the lap, pressure for position at the front of the bunch will be intense. Everyone will want to be in the first few rows of riders going into the narrow approaches to the Ryals, where riders are forced to ride two-abreast. This elongates the peloton and means that when the race turns onto the wider roads at the foot of the Ryals, the leading few riders will have a significant advantage as they hit the lower slopes.
The Ryals is not particularly long, but it is steep, especially the middle ramp, and the stronger riders have four opportunities to attack and break up the field. In 2011, when we last hosted the National Championships, Team Sky used the Ryals very effectively to thin out the field, with Chris Froome, Ian Stannard and Peter Kennaugh, in particular, launching stinging attacks up the final ramp. Ultimately it was Bradley Wiggins who benefited and the team also took silver and bronze with Kennaugh and Thomas.
The middle ramp of the Ryals climb - steep and a great place to attack!
So, any rider with aspirations to win must have the tactical awareness and condition to be near the front every time the race hits the Ryals and then the ability to absorb or even hand out the fierce attacks that will inevitably come on the climb.
A very much thinned out field will emerge from the final ascent of the Ryals and they will then have a few short miles to sort out the destiny of the title over the more rolling roads of the final, short circuit. This circuit can be windy and exposed and the final run into the finish in Stamfordham is slightly downhill, so long range solo attacks will be tempting, but equally dangerous. Often, races over this course have come down to a mere handful of riders working each other over before a final, successful solo bid in the final mile or so.
Whilst we don’t have Alpine passes to challenge the riders, the ability to climb well is a distinct advantage on this course. The obvious climbing talents who might be in contention on the day include Chris Froome and the Yates brothers, Simon and Adam. All three have the ability to handle punchier attacks too, as well as the time trialling skills to make a late break. Whilst Froome will have the advantage of a number of team-mates, the Yates brothers will only have each other, and will therefore be less able to influence the overall shape of the race and will have to rely on following the moves of others if they are to succeed.
Adam Blythe and Mark Cavendish both rode the 2011 championships over the same course and, despite their best efforts, both found the speed of the Sky train up the Ryals too much to handle. Both have the pedigree of being able to handle Grand Tours and both are incredibly canny with their bunch placement and tactics, so you can’t write them off. They are both proud former champions too, who value this title and what it stands for. So, if the other riders waste the opportunity to make the Ryals really tough on every lap, both Blythe and Cavendish could sneak a win. As could Dan McLay, the other world class sprinter likely to start.
Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas pushing hard up the Ryals in 2011
The Sky Factor
For Team Sky, if he’s on the start line, Geraint Thomas will be in contention. He has won the title before and can win from virtually any position. He will have some hefty back-up in the form of team-mates Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, Tao Geoghean Hart, Chris Lawless, Jon Dibben and Owain Doull, all of whom are capable of winning in their own right, along with, potentially, Chris Froome. Sky completely dominated the 2011 race on this course and have the firepower to do it again. None of the other teams will have anything like their strength in depth. Expect to see them working collectively to weaken the opposition and then decide, late, amongst themselves who is going to win.
These riders can win in any terrain and have the nous and experience to win big races. Team Dimension Data should have plenty of options, with Cavendish, who we’ve already mentioned and Steve Cummings, Scott Thwaites and Scott Davies. Cummings is the defending champion and this year’s course should suit his freelancing style, however, he needs a certain amount of luck to make his long-range attacks work. Thwaites is a contender in his own right, having a good range of weapons and he will be less marked than some of the other big hitters.
Looking at riders without much team-support, multiple former champion, Pete Kennaugh, Ian Bibby and Ben Swift all have the ability to cope with the terrain. Bibby is perhaps the best chance of a rider competing for a “domestic” team winning the race and showed in the commonwealth Games and the Tour de Yorkshire that he can hack it in the best company. Kennaugh is a proven winner in the event and his unpredictability and sheer range of attacking options always make him worth a punt. Swift will relish the tough roads and would love to put one over on his former team-mates at Sky.
The Young Guns
Of the younger generation, can we find any potential winners? Well, the Sky quartet of Tao Geoghean Hart, Chris Lawless, Jon Dibben and Owain Doull are all 25 or under and all have the weapons to win, if they make that final selection. Dibben probably knows the course better than the others and rode well in the Beaumont Trophy over the identical route last year. Finally, given their stellar year to date, how about the Tanfield brothers, Harry, 24 and Charlie, 22? Both know the area and the course , but the tough terrain might not entirely suit them. Watch out for them in the Time Trial on 28th June, where they will have a much better chance of picking up a medal!
Mark Cavendish and Adam Blythe, both former winners, but both will have their work cut out to win this time round
Running out of Time?
Of course, who actually starts the race is in the lap of the gods. Injury and illness can eliminate anyone before the event. But the National Road Championships still means a lot the riders and the likes of Chris Froome and Ben Swift, who haven’t yet won it, will be extra motivated as they see time running out on their attempts to claim those coveted stripes!
Next week we look at the women's race!
Your Chance To Ride the Ryals
Remember, you can ride the Ryals and the tough run-in to Stamfordham village in the Cyclone Challenge Rides the day before the National Championships. And, watch out for the racers doing their homework out on the course as you're finishing your ride - Enter the Cyclone Challenge Rides
2009 1 Kristian House 2 Daniel Lloyd 3 Peter Kennaugh
2010 1 Geraint Thomas 2 Peter Kennaugh 3 Ian Stannard
2011 1 Bradley Wiggins 2 Geraint Thomas 3 Peter Kennaugh
2012 1 Ian Stannard 2 Alex Dowsett 3 Russell Hampton
2013 1 Mark Cavendish 2 Ian Stannard 3 David Millar
2014 1 Peter Kennaugh 2 Ben Swift 3 Simon Yates
2015 1 Peter Kennaugh 2 Mark Cavendish 3 Ian Stannard
2016 1 Adam Blythe 2 Mark Cavendish 3 Andy Fenn
2017 1 Steve Cummings 2 Chris Lawless 3 Ian Bibby