May 18, 2018 | 1month | Race Reports
The Course: The women race over three 22 mile 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.
As with the men’s race we can expect the triple-ramped Ryals climb, plus the particularly narrow approach roads before the climb to really shape the race. This means that for much of the lap, pressure for position at the front of the bunch will be intense.
The lane that leads from the B6342 to the foot of the Ryals climb is gently undulating, but it’s extremely narrow and there’s only room to ride two-abreast, which naturally elongates and spreads out the field. There’s little opportunity to move up the field once you’re on this road and 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 three opportunities to attack and break up the field. A small break group has often formed at the top of the Ryals on the first lap of recent editions of our Curlew Cup National Series women’s race and we can probably expect the same at the National Championships.
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.
There may, of course, be some re-grouping after the first couple of ascent of the Ryals on the long downhill run into Stamfordham, but, as with the men’s race, a very much thinned out field will emerge from the final ascent of the Ryals. Unlike the men, who have a small finishing circuit to complete before finally crossing the line, the women go straight from the top of the Ryals into the finish at Stamfordham.An escaped group of riders will be very hard to chase down on this fast run-in and solo attacks will probably come from within the group. It’s not inconceivable that a lone rider will break free on the final ascent of the Ryals and solo to victory. Whatever happens, don’t expect a large bunch sprint.
Of course, this year’s race will be missing four times winner and defending champion, Lizzie Deignan, who is pregnant. This may well shape the race as Lizzie is such a strong all-rounder and clear favourite every time she rides in the UK and other riders tend to plan their races in response to her strengths. This year’s race will therefore be a lot more open. It will also be won by someone with all-round abilities and is not necessarily set up for pure climbers or full-on sprinters.
The Canyon SRAM Racing sisters, Hannah and Alice Barnes will be amongst the favourites, both having an excellent record in the National Championships, with Hannah winning it back in 2016, when Alice was second, claiming the under-23 title in the process. Hannah was third last year and both have the kind of all-round ability that should see them in the mix at the finish.
The Wiggle High5 trio of Elinor Barker, Lucy Garner and Katie Archibald are similarly multi-dimensional riders, who should be able to cope with the climbs and have weapons that might enable them to win from a small group. Barker and Archibald, in particular, are known as Track riders, but they finished fourth and second respectively, last year, on a very tough Isle of Man course and Archibald is a previous winner over this year’s course in the 2015 Curlew Cup.
Another rider with an impressive Track pedigree is Dani Rowe. But it’s her recent road form that has most relevance for our race and she’s arguably in as good a form as any British female rider at the moment. She rode very strongly in the recent Tour de Yorkshire to claim second overall and was clearly the strongest UK rider in the race. There’s a strong case for making her the pre-race favourite if she can reproduce that form.
Of the home-based riders, the current form riders include Nikki Juniper, who won the Curlew Cup in 2016 and is the kind of tenacious competitor who won’t allow the race to stagnate. She will also have the support of her strong team.
Storey Racing’s Emily Nelson, Neah Evans and Rebecca Durrell have all been racing well in recent weeks, with Durrell lying down a marker with her win in the Lincoln GP. Similarly, Team Breeze’s youngsters are always worth watching, not least Megan Barker, who has been in sensational form in the Tour Series, alongside team-mates Eleanor Dickinson and Jessica Roberts.Of course, who actually starts the race is in the lap of the gods. Injury and illness can eliminate anyone before the event. But, with women’s racing stronger than ever, this should be a superb spectacle over a long and testing route.
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
2017 Lizzie Deignan
2016 Hannah Barnes
2015 Lizzie Armitstead
2014 Laura Trott
2013 Lizzie Armitstead
2012 Sharon Laws
2011 Lizzie Armitstead
2010 Emma Pooley