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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 37

Episode Description

The 2023 National Road Championships in Redcar and Cleveland could be one for the ages. Stacked fields in the three disciplines, a relentlessly hilly road course, a fast and flat time-trial course, and a circuit that takes in town centre and seafront, it promises excitement and intrigue, challenge and reward.

In this episode, co-hosts Timothy John and Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, make a detailed analysis of the forthcoming championships. As might be expected, Tim and Phil consider the commercial and strategic context, as well as the competitive aspects of this blue riband sporting event. 

Their analysis is boosted by expert insights from Jonathan Day, British Cycling’s Sport and Participation Director, and from Larry Hickmott, the Founder and Editor of Brother UK-sponsored VeloUK.net. Jonathan has led the team responsible for the forthcoming championships, while Larry has covered almost every edition for the last 20 years. 

Jonathan describes the dual nature of the national championships: races with the most coveted prizes in domestic cycling and a halo event to inspire year-round cycling activity in the

host region. He explains the similarities between British Cycling’s pursuit of a venue and the approach adopted by commercial race organisers.

Larry compares the road course with that used for Cleveland’s much-missed Klondike Grand Prix and describes why Skelton Green might be more decisive than Saltburn Bank. He explains why the time-trial course seemed shorter than expected and describes trying to visualise a town-centre circuit course before the barriers are erected. 

With dazzling start lists equal to breathtaking backdrops of the North Yorkshire coast, the 2023 National Road Championships seems set to be a memorable edition. Enjoy this in-depth preview of the courses and contenders, presented alongside a broader consideration of the economic and social context in which they’ll be delivered.

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Episode 37: 2023 National Road Championships Preview

Episode contents

  • 00:02 – Intro
  • 00.37 – Hello and Welcome
  • 02:23 – Part One: The Dutton Affair
  • 04:14 – Part Two: Two Sides, Same Coin
  • 13.49 – Part Three: Road To Glory
  • 25.20 – Part Four: Race Of Truth
  • 33.19 – Part Five: Short Circuit
  • 41.29 – Outro

Episode 37: 2023 National Road Championships Preview

Introduction

Timothy John

“If your passion lies in elite British road racing and you want an inside line on the teams, riders, organisers and sponsors that make this sport such a compelling spectacle, you’re in the right place.

“I’m Timothy John and joining me for every episode is my co-host, the Managing Director of Brother UK, Phil Jones.”

Phil Jones 

“Thanks, Tim. It’s great to be here. We’re going to use this platform to talk about all the key issues surrounding the sport. With special guests, deep dives into hot topics and plenty of chat, we’ll keep you informed about all things UK racing. Stay tuned!”

Hello and welcome

Timothy John

“Hello and welcome to this special edition of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast where today we’ll preview the 2023 National Road Championships, which take place this week in Redcar and Cleveland. 

“The racing begins on Wednesday, June 21, with a time-trial on a course that British Cycling describes as, quotes, “one of the fastest courses the national championships has ever

seen”. 

“Two days later, the action will shift to Redcar town centre and Esplanade for a seaside crit with WorldTour pros. 

“And on Sunday, June 25 the championships will reach their climax with road races for men and women on a relentlessly undulating course that will test even riders with a Grand Tour in their legs. 

“We’ll hear from British Cycling’s Sport and Participation Director Jonathan Day, the man leading the team behind this championships, and learn why the racing is only part of a larger

ambition to make cycling a year-round activity in Redcar and Cleveland.

“And we’ll hear from Larry Hickmott, the Founder and Editor of Brother UK-sponsored VeloUK.net, who’s covered countless national championships and has already driven the road and time-trial courses in Cleveland.

“He’s even walked the circuit course in Redcar town centre, and, with barrier lines excepted, gained a working knowledge of a course that will bring domestic crit specialists, world time-trial champions and WorldTour road captains wheel-to-wheel. 

“Joining me to discuss the course, contenders, and the wider economic, commercial and social significance of a successful nationals is my co-host, Phil Jones, the Managing Director of

Brother UK.

“Phil, thanks very much indeed for joining me today.”

Phil Jones

“Hi Tim. Great to be here, and how exciting to have the nationals ahead of us.”

 

Part One: The Dutton Affair

Timothy John 

“It’s peak season now, isn’t it? The races are coming thick and fast. 

“Before we go any further, Phil, just a quick chapeau for that interview with Jon Dutton, British Cycling’s new CEO. 

“I think you got the scoop there, didn’t you? The first proper interview with a man who’ll have a significant influence on the development of British cycle sport in at least the short to medium term, and who has already been a very visible leader for British Cycling.”

Phil Jones

“Yes, I’ve had lots of people contact me to say that they really enjoyed listening to that podcast and also that I’d put some of the key questions to him that they wanted put. 

“For the first interview, naturally, we weren’t doing a huge, huge deep dive because Jon is very new to the role and, of course, new to the sport, so there’s a limit to how much you can push him. 

“I will actually say that he really seems to be getting on with things and already since his arrival, we’ve seen the big announcements around the participation of trans-gender athletes in British Cycling events, and I see CCT have also followed suit now with an almost mirrored policy for their own events. 

“So fair play to him. He’s clearly getting on, and if you haven’t listened yet to that podcast, I would highly recommend that you do, in order to better understand, perhaps, some of the

future intent for this sport that we love.”

Timothy John 

“Well, one of the phrases, Phil, that jumped out of the recording at me was Jon’s assertion that he, quotes, ‘Walks towards challenges,’ and he’s certainly doing that in these early days of his tenure. 

“Definitely worth checking out that interview: that’s Brother UK Cycling Podcast episode 36. It’s available on all leading podcast platforms, and, of course, on the Brother UK website.”

INTERLUDE

Part Two: Two Sides, Same Coin

Timothy John 

“Well, we are now mere days away from the 2023 National Road Championships in Redcar and Cleveland, and who knows more about that than Jonathan Day, British Cycling’s Sport

and Participation Director and the man who’s led the team behind the championships.

“Jonathan’s title, Phil, is pretty revealing. It encapsulates the dual ambition, I think, of the national road championships Yes, it’s a blue riband sporting event, but it’s also a halo event to inspire year-round cycling activity in the host region. 

“Now, Jonathan and his team operate in a very similar fashion to our colleagues at SweetSpot in going out and trying to secure a host venue, and, of course, they face very similar challenges. 

“Like SweetSpot, British Cycling must secure a host likely to be facing the same economic headwinds that are buffeting every organisation in this country, whether private or public.

“The early indications of sporting success are these three cracking courses and world-class line-ups in every discipline and category. 

“And the earliest indication of year-round participation is the addition of the East Cleveland Classic to the year’s National Road Series calendar. The domestic peloton will return to the region on October 1. 

“So, without further ado, let’s have a listen to Jonathan, and get the inside line on the logistical, commercial and social background to these championships.”

Jonathan Day

“We go out and try to seek a host, and we approach the local authorities directly, but clearly we give that quite a bit of thought, particularly around the authorities and the potential impact that it will have in that host area. 

“Clearly, major events are important but also, in more recent times, they’ve been a little bit more challenging to land with host authorities, particularly with stretched budgets following the

cost of living crisis.  

“In addition, we’ve got to think about the sporting elements, in particular the topography and the delivery potential of those three events, but the ambition of the host is super important. There’s nothing better than working with a host that really wants the event and will do everything to support them.

“That’s absolutely what we have this year with Redcar and Cleveland Council. I said to someone earlier this morning that the support had been incredible across every area of the event. 

“We’ll start this Wednesday, in terms of time-trial delivery, and very quickly you bump into one and then straightway into the next, really. So once Wednesday’s done, a really good job of that, then Thursday we’ll head into Redcar to get plans in place for that delivery on Friday and then out the back of Friday evening, late on no doubt, we’ll be in Saltburn from first thing

Saturday morning and that will continue. 

“To put it into perspective, in terms of officials, police, NEG, volunteers, bike riders, team personnel etc. in among that entourage, there’s probably about 500 people, just that alone, without starting to think about fans, spectators, other road users, communities, businesses that are affected etc. 

“It’s a big deal, but, as I say, it’s an absolute privilege to do what we do. We care deeply about it and about the sport, and we we can’t wait to get stuck in. It can’t come soon enough, if I’m honest.

“As we said at the start, my role is sport and participation. Our regional teams have been working really closely with Redcar and Cleveland Council. As part of our wider work, the social

impact, the social purpose is a big part of what we’re about.

“The great thing is these kind of major events, flagship moments, if you like, provide an opportunity to open up a discussion about year-round activations, community engagement, legacy, whatever you want to call it, but, essentially, it’s just an opportunity to look at ways to work with and partner with a host to deliver year-round activity and not just a bike race. 

“The bike race provides the opportunity for that discussion. It really provides the inspiration for the local people. It’s then about how we can continue that discussion and look at partnering with them to deliver year-round activation through our participation programme. Those discussion are very much in train with Redcar and Cleveland Council.”
 

Timothy John 

“Well, great to hear there, Phil, from Jonathan, and, as we mentioned his title tells a story, doesn’t it? ‘Sport and Participation Director’. 

“These are two sides of the same coin: a major sporting event to inspire year-round cycling activity in the host region. 

“What scale of challenge would you expect in the current economic climate where local authorities are already under huge pressure to deliver even core services?”

Phil Jones

“Yeah, absolute kudos to Redcar and Cleveland local authority for backing the championships. Of course, it will mean they will have to invest some money. There’s a huge amount of red tape and administration that you need to go through to host a national championship, of course: road closures, crowd safety, all of these different things. There’s a huge amount of logistics and administrative effort needed, as well as funding. 

“Clearly, in North Yorkshire they are very keen to get far more of us over there, riding the roads of Redcar and Cleveland, but also to have their own population enjoying more active

travel. Clearly, they’re looking to shine a light on the region, and that’s really great. 

“This year, the good news is we’re seeing the national championships being televised on GCN and Discovery+., with also, I think, an edited TV highlights package, which is brilliant. Wrapping that all up that will put a really, really great focus onto the Redcar and Cleveland area, and I’m sure encourage us all to get there and get riding.” 

Timothy John 

“Absolutely. That’s a topic we’ve visited again and again on this podcast: the importance of television coverage to teams, events and sponsors. It was once a feature of the National Road Series, and we very much hope that it will be restored. 

“British Cycling’s first annual review of its five-year Road Ahed strategy, another topic we’ve covered in detail, reported half-a-million viewers from television coverage of the 2021

championships in Lincoln, and one would imagine that last year’s were higher, given that Mark Cavendish is a bona fide superstar. 

“This year, British Cycling is promising coverage on GCN+, Discovery+ and its own YouTube channel, as well as a highlights package on ITV4. Linear television, of course, offers a much broader reach and that make it a critical part of the package. 

“Phil, if you were running a business in Redcar and Cleveland, what would you hope the National Road Championships would do for you?”

Phil Jones

“Crowds, one hopes. Ringing tills. Hotels full. Restaurants full. Busy coffee shops. You can measure the impact of something like a road race championship in those famous terms of GVA: Gross Value Add. This is where the local authority can look at a point in time and say, ‘Ok, without it, the till ringing looked like this, and with it, we can generate ‘this’ amount for that local economy.’ 

“But, of course, that’s just the initial return on investment, isn’t it, Tim? What they’re looking at here is the legacy piece: the national championships getting more people actively

travelling, more people cycling and walking, and therefore having a much greater impact on some of the longer-term strategic objectives that they have around a healthier population.”

Timothy John 

“Well, if a National Championships with a Tour de France winner and scores of British professionals from the men’s and women’s WorldTours,  doesn’t provide inspiration, I don’t know what will. 

“Just a final point on the wider health of the sport before we move on. What significance do you place on the success or otherwise of a national championship among the wider

challenges the sport is facing?

“Is this a halo event that can inspire new investment, serve as a springboard for new initiatives, boost morale, all that kind of thing? 

“Or is it simply a one-off? A holiday, if you like, where we glimpse how good things could be, before returning to the reality on Monday morning of finding sponsors and racing in much

lower-profile events?"

Phil Jones

“If the sport needed a morale-booster, it’s now. This is perfectly timed. We’ve had so much negativity in the past three to six months around the racing scene, the folding of teams, what does the future of the sport look like. 

“We really need these nationals right now, in my opinion. I’m really encouraged by the presence of the WorldTour teams, coming for the 2023 championships. I looked earlier: I think INEOS-Grenadiers are sending over eight riders. That really begins to show, I think, the team’s intent. Clearly, they’re looking to take away possibly two out of these three jerseys;

maybe all three. I can’t recall eight riders from INEOS being at a national championships for some time, so clearly that’s a really positive indication.  

“So is the nationals the right bellwether to assess the health of the sport? Probably not. Clearly, we know that there are wider issues. We’ve been talking about them extensively on the podcast, Tim, but at a point in time where we just need that boost, that something to put our energy and focus into, then I think the fact that we’ve got the nationals on the telly, we can sit on our sofas, we can watch the action unfolding with fantastic commentators - Ned Boulting, Matt Stephens and Hannah Walker - a great commentary team and great racing, what’s not to like?”

INTERLUDE

 

Part Three: Road To Glory

Timothy John

“Well, it’s very much within the remit of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast to have first addressed the economic challenges and the broader significance of a national championships, especially for the host region, before turning our attention to the sporting aspects. 

“It’s kind of what we do. We hope to present the range in a broader context, but, bottom line, the National Road Championships is a sporting event, and what a sporting event. 

“We’ve already gained intelligence on the courses from Brother UK-sponsored VeloUK.net. That, of course, is one man, Larry Hickmott, and who knows more about British domestic road racing than Larry, who’s been covering it for the last 20-odd years.

“Goodness knows how many championships Larry’s seen in that time. He’s witnessed victories for David Millar and Nicole Cooke, Lizzie Deignan and Roger Hammond, Bradley Wiggins and Laura Kenny, and countless others. 

“Larry has already  driven the road and time-trial courses and gained a very clear indication of where the opportunities will arise, what type of rider is likely to succeed and that kind of

inside information. 

“And he’s walked the circuit course in Redcar town centre which must be quite a strange experience: walking through a busy town in the middle of a working day and trying to visualise a crit race!

“Larry has also covered each edition of the Klondike Grand Prix, a National Road Series event, and can accurately compare that course with the course that we’ll see used at the nationals. 

“Let’s hear now from Larry.”

Larry Hickmott

“Klondike was, basically, two different courses, whereas this one is just one of those courses but it takes in two of the climbs, or three of the climbs, that the old course used to take in: that’s, of course, Saltburn and Skelton Green, which are the two main climbs, and then you’ve got a couple of drags at Boosbeck, Lingual etc,

“The thing that struck me about driving around the course and reminding myself of what was there after a couple of years away is the fact that there’s a lot of descending as well. There

is space to recover, depending on how far the chasers are behind the WorldTour riders, who will probably light it up a bit. 

“If we look at Lincoln, Michaelgate, there’s a lot of pressure there, but the attacking actually happens over at Bailgate, which is the section that follows Michaelgate, which is a drag but not as steep, and it could be the same with this one. We might not see any attacking on Saltburn, but the roads that follow drag up for a good mile, I guess. There could well be a lot of attacking there. 

“To me, if you’re going to make an attack stick, it’s best for it to get in early and use Skelton Green to increase your advantage, because once they get to the other side of the course, like Kilnthorpe, on the run back into Saltburn, that’s very fast. There’s a long, narrow section which is pretty flat, and then some steep downhill sections to Saltburn. For me, as a rider, I would have liked to have had a good gap before that. 

“Having seen the way that the old Sky team used to dominate with Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh, Bradley Wiggins, and Ian Stannard, it’s very, very difficult to go past one of them, and if Geraint Thomas is hungry for it, which I’m guessing he will be after that disappointment in the Giro, I can see him winning both the time-trial and the road race. We all saw him in

the Giro. He was an amazing rider. 

“Pfeiffer Georgi has already won the title before, in Lincoln, 2021, she has shown this year with a couple of UCI wins just how strong and tough she is. Anna Henderson has been in the mix, and last year Alice Towers rode away from both of them. 

“It’s a very hard one to predict, but I think it will be one of those who has the depth, because on a course like this you do need that strength-in-depth to last the distance on such a course.”

Timothy John

“Well, great to hear there, Phil, from Larry, and who’s already had boots on the ground in Redcar and Cleveland.

“Let’s talk first about the road race and a course that is hugely demanding. The question is, I guess, is it too demanding?

“A national championships attracts such a wide range of ability, from Grand Tour winners to glorious amateurs. It’s a tricky balance, isn’t it, to provide a course that will test the strongest

while allowing the majority of the field to compete?”

Phil Jones

“If you look at the course for the 2023 road race, it’s very challenging. It’s lumpy. If we look at some of the statistics sitting behind that: 

“The women will race seven laps of the course. It’s an 18.8km loop, so they will race 82 miles with approximately 2800m of climbing, so if we want to put that into our money, that’s

9271ft, which is pretty lumpy, and, of course, the men’s race will be 10 laps of that course, which is 117 miles with 13,300ft of climbing. 

“That will make a very, very different race for the nationals in 2023, which is why I think there are some big squads arriving to really manage that race in a way that it’s going to need to be managed. Absolutely, it’s going to lend itself to a breakaway. It’s going to lend itself to some attritional racing.

“We’ve got the famous climb of Saltburn Bank in there, which is a bit of a leg-breaker. It’s only a very short climb at 0.3 of a kilometre, but it’s a power climb. You go up that with an incredible power output. When I looked at the Strava segment, Tim, to see who’s been up there at what, you’ve got Steve Lampier, who was riding for Saint Piran: an 829w effort. Rory Townsend: 782w for 42 seconds. Connor Swift 792 watts. Gabz Cullaigh 857w, and he did it in 43 seconds. 

“Effectively, it’s a 40 to 45-second effort. Big, big power, just to get up that. You’re going to do that in the women’s race seven times; in the men’s race, ten times. So that’s going to begin

to make the legs sting, a bit like Lincoln I guess: going up the Michaelgate. It’s going to sting!

“So, clearly, we’re going to see the races starting out fairly easy, then in the women’s race by lap four, lap five, we’re going to start to see that very punchy Saltburn Bank climb begin to kick in. But, of course, that’s not the only climb in the race. You’d think that’s the only climb. It’s a very, very lumpy course, so it’s going to lend itself ever so well to the climbers.“

Timothy John

“Absolutely, yeah. I mean, Larry made the point, didn’t he, that Saltburn Bank, like Michaelgate, is not a definitive climb when taken in isolation. But ride it ten times or even seven times, and you’ll find it’s a leg-softener to say the very least. 

“He also made the point that just up the road from Saltburn Bank there’s the climb of Skelton Green, and, in the same way that Michaelgate is the focus on the Lincoln Grand Prix but isn’t always the decisive section, Saltburn Bank might not define the nationals.

“The drag up Hob Hill, then the steeper climb of Skelton Green, followed by a descent…that might provide a more critical challenge. 

“I wondered if you thought, Phil, that the technical nature of the course – and not just climbing, but a lot of descending too, according to Larry; I mean, its demanding from every angle, however you consider it   – I wonder if you thought that might just level the playing field?

“You’ve already mentioned this sizeable squad that INEOS-Grenadiers are sending. The other squad in the men’s race that will be present in numbers is Saint Piran, a British-registered UCI Continental team.  

"Now, they recently scored a 1-2-3 at the Lincoln Grand Prix. Jack Rootkin-Gray is winning on the Continent in Team GB colours. Alexander Richardson is arguably the strongest rider in

the UK this season…

“What do you reckon: a technical course that might level the playing field by providing plenty of opportunities to break away, a super strong domestic team to take on that super strong WorldTour team…

Phil Jones

“It is, Tim, and I can’t call it. I really can’t at the moment. You’re right, Saint Piran have got 13 riders on the road, which, of course, gives all sorts of opportunity for them to put people up the road and to do run-offs and one-twos, if they’re in the breakaway; all of these sorts of things. 

“So if they race that very, very strategically, it will be very interesting to see how that plays out when you’ve then got the WorldTour teams, normally used to controlling the race and managing the race on their terms. We know that the nationals is always raced very, very differently. It’s a very, very different race to racing on the Continent. I think it’s going to be a very, very, very dynamic race, and, honestly speaking, I can’t call it at the moment. 

“My view would be that, if you asked me to put my finger on it, then I think Geraint Thomas will definitely be looking to take that jersey for the road race, but I don’t think it’ going to be easy, because when you’ve got capable riders like Alexander Richardson with 12 other riders sitting around him, for example, you’ve got a lot of options You’ve got a lot of people.

You’ve got a lot of matches you can strike to wear out, to outmaneuver, in terms of tactics, so it’s going to be very, very interesting,”

Timothy John 

“Well, you mentioned Steve Lampier a moment ago, and he, of course, will be at the wheel of the Saint Piran car. It sounds like he’s recruited nearly every cyclist in Cornwall to help out for the nationals, but you’re right: almost impossible to call.

“And the women’s race offers another version of the same dynamic: a formidable contingent of WorldTour professionals and a very strong domestic team with huge strength in numbers, this time in the form of DAS-Handsling, who have 10 riders named on the provisional start list. 

“There are some fantastic individual talents in the women’s road race in the shape of Anna Henderson, in the shape of Pfeiffer Georgi, the Barnes sisters, Alice and Hannah, to name only the former champions, but DAS-Handsling will be there in numbers, as will AWOL-O’Shea, as will Pro Noctis – Heidi Kjeldsen – 200 Degrees Coffee. 

“This is going to be another hugely intriguing clash between WorldTour and domestic, I think.”

Phil Jones 

“Absolutely. It’s almost the same. If you look at what DAS-Handsling have got in terms of numbers. They have perhaps nine riders in the race, and, again, all good riders, racing regularly, not just in the UK but on the Continent. 

“When you’ve got riders like Anna Anderson coming over: a WorldTour rider. We’ve seen her journey from the Tour Series right the way through to the WorldTour, absolutely fantastic,

but it’s just her. She’s got to rely on her engine and her positioning and her ability to be smart in the race. 

“You’ve also got teams like DAS-Handsling, with very, very capable riders in the team: people like Sammie Stuart, who’s very, very capable; someone who can go up the road very, very easily. It’s going to be something else, I think. Danni Shrosbree. The course probably lends itself very well to Danni Shrosbree, just with it being quite lumpy. 

“I can’t quite call this one at the moment. I think the road race is going to be so exciting this year. I’m planning to just be on the sofa watching them both and not really moving. I think it

will be a fantastic mop up podcast, Tim, when we see how the tactics play out on the day..”

INTERLUDE

 

Part Four: Race Of Truth

Timothy John

“So that’s the road races analysed. Let’s move on now to discuss the time-trials. We’re doing this in an odd chronological order because, of course, it’s the time-trials that open the championships on Wednesday June 21. 

“Let’s hear again now from Larry, who’s driven the open road sections of the time-trial course. He has some valuable insights on what the riders will face once they leave the pristine tarmac of the Croft motor racing circuit, where the course will start and finish. Let’s hear from Larry.”

Larry Hickmott

“The time-trial course is flat. I don’t know what the term ‘pan flat’ actually means because this one, they’re a few slight drags of maybe half-a-percent or one per cent. I did notice two railway bridges, but they’re not something that you’d have to change gear for a lot. As Charlie Tanfield said to me, ’There’s going to be some big chainrings in action.’

“I’ve not seen the motor racing circuit. Anyone who’s been to a motor racing circuit knows that they can be a little bit up and down, so I don’t know how ‘pan flat’ that one is, but certainly

the course outside of the motor racing circuit…

“It looks like quite a big loop on the maps, but when I was driving around it, I was round it before I knew it. The loops outside of the motor racing circuit aren’t that long either. 

“I think it will be a WorldTour rider who wins the time-trial. I don’t know what Dan [Bigham] has been doing outside of his normal job at INEOS. There are guys like James Shaw who get a lot of depth from their racing abroad, so from the men’s point of view I think it’s probably going to be a rider from overseas, from a WorldTour team.
 
“From the women’s side of things, there’s a lady in that race, Kate Allan, who’s a mother, and she won the ‘ten’ champs last year, which I saw her do, but I’ve also seen her win a time-trial overall, in front of all the men. She is a very special time-trialist. She is, for me, a possibility of winning that time-trial, from a domestic point of view. But then again you’ve got riders

like Pfeiffer [Georgi]. Anna Henderson. It could well be her.”

Timothy John

“More good stuff there from Larry, Phil. If railway bridges represent the extent of the climbing on the open road sections of this course, it seems like “fast and flat” is an accurate description!

“Now a lot has been made, not least by British Cycling, about the speed of this course. It’s going to be, to quote Jonathan Day, “a real tester’s course”. It’s one for the big engines, and

we heard from Larry that Charlie Tanfield thinks it will be one for big chainrings, too.

“I just wondered if it’s also going to be a course that will favour riders with a fully optimised aero package. Aerodynamics is almost the dominant theme in professional cycling these days, isn’t it, particularly in time-trials, and it’s another area, Phil, where Britain is a world-leader. 

“We have Simon Smart of Drag2Zero working at the Mercedes F1 facility in Brackley, British Cycling has inherited Chris Boardman’s state-of-the-art wind tunnel, Matt Bottrill is an aero consultant to Lotto-Dstny, and former World Hour Record Holder Dan Bigham is an aero consultant to INEOS-Grenadiers.

“What do you think? Is this fast, flat course the perfect canvas for all of that aero expertise?”

Phil Jones

“Undoubtedly. A completely pan flat course so let’s break that down. It starts and finishes on the Croft motor racing circuit, and the women will do two laps of the course, which will end up at 27.4km, which is 17 miles, and the men will do three laps of the course, which is 41km or 25.53 miles, so slightly longer than we would normally perhaps be looking at, certainly for the men, when we’re looking at time-trials. It’s not a ‘ten’ and it’s not a 25-miler. 

“However, you’ve only got to look at the tradition of time-trialing in the UK. No wonder we’re developing all the world expertise, and, obviously, Dan Bigham [is] the man on the inside of INEOS-Grenadiers, so no doubt will be setting up all the riders there to ensure they’re completely optimised on the day. 

“And, of course, Dan himself: one of our most competent time-trialists and an aerodynamicist by trade. Not only is he advising the INEOS-Grenadiers on how slippery they need to be through the air, he no doubt will be keeping a little something up his own sleeve in order that he can put in a good performance, and without a doubt, in my view, he will still be in the top

three riders, regardless of what the outcome is on the day.”

Timothy John

“The other perspective one can apply to this so-called tester’s course is that there’s nowhere to hide. If you’ve got the legs, you’ve got the legs; aerodynamics of not. Riders like Jon Archibald, Hayley Simmonds – they won’t be competing on road bikes, of course, but they certainly won’t be operating with the resources of INEOS-Grenadiers – isn’t this is a course that gives them a fighting chance as well?”

Phil Jones

“If you have the engine on a flat course in the ‘race of truth’, you’re in the mix, but I guess when you’re looking at the prospect of WorldTour riders coming off the back of something like the Giro with the engines and the fitness that they must have, that does put them in a slightly different category in my opinion. 

“Not demeaning at all any of the capabilities of our UK time-trial specialists, but when you’ve got the equipment, and you’ve got the expertise, and you’ve got the engine, that’s a pretty formidable package that you’re bringing to the nationals in 2023, so, without a doubt, somebody from INEOS will win the one. 

“And interestingly I noted in the women’s that Jos Lowden is not on the start list. Now Jos is arguably one of our most capable time-trialists. Of course, she’s a former national champion

and a partner in crime to Dan Bigham. I think that kind of opens the gates up a little bit for somebody new. 

“I know Anna Henderson is obviously a very, very competent time-trialist. Again, she’s here on her own, but she’s got the kit, she’s got the capability, she’s got the engine, the racing in her legs. You’ve also got Eleanor Backstedt with a very similar sort of set-up. An incredibly powerful and strong rider. So, in the women’s it’s a toss up between those two, in my opinion.” 

Timothy John

“Yeah, either of the Backstedt sisters could get the job done. Then you’ve got Olympic and Paralympic champions like Katie Archibald, Elinor Barker and Dame Sarah Storey. It’s going to be a fascinating competition. 

“Anna Henderson is arguably the most intriguing factor of all. Does anybody know, even now, what type of rider she is? Time-trialing is just one of her many strengths - British

champion, of course, in 2021, and Commonwealth Games silver medalist last year – but she’s a force in the Classics, too.

“I remember,

Phil, you and I watched her win her first round of the Tour Series at Wembley Park back in 2018, and back then everybody thought she was going to be a sprinter, but she was very

keen to avoid being pigeon-holed and was careful to reject that label.

“Fast-forward a few months, and we watched her win the Ryedale Grand Prix: a brutally hard race in North Yorkshire. I mean she really can do it all. 

“Anyway, two very intriguing time-trials in prospect.”

Phil Jones

“And let’s not forget Pfeiffer Georgi: a very, very strong rider. And a bit of an outsider: what about Emily Meakin? Remember Emily Meakin. A very, very strong time-trialist. We haven’t heard a lot from her lately. I wonder if she’s doing a little bit of secret training, and she’s going to turn up and smash out some good watts. Let’s see.”

Timothy John

“Well, it’s that kind of event: the national championships, as you say, very different to the rest of the season. We tend to apply that analysis to the road race, but could it also apply to the time-trial? Who knows? We will definitely find out.”

Phil Jones

“We will see. Again, another one where I’m going to be pinned on the sofa. It’s take the day off from work. For the time-trial, the under-23 event is going in the morning, isn’t it, so the men roll out at nine o’clock in the morning, the U23s; the women at 10.15am. And, of course, the elites will go in the afternoon: = women at 12.50-pm and men at 14.10. 

“Make sure you book your days off. You get your sofas ready and all the provisions that you need to stay wired in for the racing.” 
 
INTERLUDE
 

Part Five: Short Circuit

Timothy John 

 “Let’s move on to discuss the circuit race, and I have to say, Phil, this is the event I’m looking forward to the most. 

“Like time-trialing, crit racing is a quintessentially British discipline. When you think of the squads that we’ve had, from Rapha Condor to WiV Sungod, the Team Breeze squad led by

Jess Roberts – do you remember them back in 2019? – all the way through to Pro-Noctis, the bar has just been raised higher and higher and higher.

“Needless to say, Larry’s reconnaissance of Redcar and Cleveland included the course for the circuit race, even though barriers would have been notably absent. 

“Let’s hear again now from Larry on the challenges that await the riders in Redcar town centre and, critically, on its esplanade.”

Larry Hickmott

“The crit course, yes, I did walk it, but, as I’ve said in my previews, without knowing what the barrier line is, it’s difficult to know just how complex the race will be. 

“But unlike a lot of races which always have a feature in them, whether it’s cobbles, whether it’s a really narrow section, a chicane section, whatever, this one is very fast. 

“There are 90-degree bends, certainly the one after the finish line, which is tight-ish, but the rest of the bends are not too bad. There’s nothing that falls back on itself, no hairpins, providing, of course, that I’ve walked the right course because some of the streets weren’t named, but from what I can see, and I did look a the maps pretty hard to make sure that I was on the right course, it looks like a very fast course. 

“My favourites are people like Lewis Askey and Sam Watson, who showed last year, when they were up there, how good they were at that sort of racing. With another season in Europe in their legs, they’re likely to be a bit stronger. 

“But then again, Matt Bostock has also been racing in Europe, who won it last year. They are certainly the favourites for me, in the men’s race. 

“In the women’s race, it will be interesting to see how the likes of Emma Jeffers, who was second to Josie [Nelson] last year, and Josie’s not in this one, how she gets on; whether she can go one better and pull on the jersey.”

Timothy John

“More valuable insights there from Larry, Phil. Ninety degree bends, yes, but not hairpins this year: Ian Watson, the manager of Hutchinson – Brother UK, will doubtless be disappointed. I know that Ian loves a hairpin!

“Sadly, through nobody’s fault, we’ve been deprived of a Tour Series this year, so the domestic teams will have to reacclimatise, as well as the WorldTour riders. And they might have to acclimatise, in the literal sense, if the wind blows in off the North Sea onto Redcar Esplanade!

“Could we witness that rarest of sightings, Phil: echelons in a crit race?”

Phil Jones

“Yeah, well see. We will see. It’s 1km long; almost a 1km-dead long course. There are 16 turns in it, and the riders will race in it for 55 minutes plus five laps. 

“I think wind direction will be quite important, and I’m sure all the teams will be studying their meteorological applications on the day of the race and determining their strategies. 

“Certainly, the teams with the numbers, if there is an opportunity - if there’s a head wind on that straight, for example - it could be advantageous to them, and it could play into their hands. We will see. 

“Exciting times, Tim. The whole thing looks like a really, really exciting package for 2023.”

Timothy John

“Agreed. 100 per cent. 

“Well, we heard earlier from Jonathan Day, British Cycling’s Sport and Participation Director, when we were discussing what might be described as the strategic aims of the championships, but he’s also hands on with the course design and implementation. 

“Let’s hear a bit more from Jonathan, this time specifically on the mechanics of the course for the National Circuit Race Championships.”

Jonathan Day

“The circuit race is, actually, relatively straight forward. It’s a kilometre or so, fully barriered. Once you’ve got the permissions to close roads and to start putting closures in, when you manage that really, really well, the setting up of the course is a lot more straight-forward. You’re fully barriering and creating a more sterile field of play than what you might in a time-trial or road race. 

“You can tweak barrier lines and start to think about the racing lines that you want to achieve, depending on the racing dynamics that you’re looking for. That gets really interesting.

There’s some opportunity with the space that we have in and around the circuit to make that quite interesting. 

“The circuit last year was great. Kirkcudbright was pretty tight in places, whereas this year, it’s quite technical, but at the same time, there’s enough space for riders at quite a few points on that course to move up and to recover, as well. 

“The wind will be interesting, and I think that will play its part, which in itself brings its own dynamic because how it’s raced on the day can be very different to what riders were looking at the day before or on the morning of that day. It can change, I just think it will be really interesting.” 

Timothy John

“More great insights there from Jonathan. We talked earlier Phil about the circuit race being a feature of the national championships since 2021. Previously, it was a standalone event. 

“I wonder if you felt that including it alongside the time-trial and the road race had boosted its status, so to speak, sort of raised its credibility in a way, and what stronger evidence could

we have than the presence of WorldTour riders?

“Luke Rowe and Josh Tarling from INEOS-Grenadiers, Lewis Askey and Sam Watson from Groupama-FDJ. These are riders with professional contracts to fulfil when this championships is over. A circuit race, as we know, is a high-risk discipline. Staying upright is never a certainty. 

“And, of course, it’s two days before the national road race, which you would imagine Sam Watson will fancy, having finished as runner-up last year. 

“Do you think the status of the humble circuit race is on the rise? Is it being taken more seriously?”

Phil Jones

“Well, I think the fact that it’s within the overall championships just sets the scene about whether people would take that seriously or not. The fact that it’s in the national championships I think gives people that choice. If it was held on its own, we’d probably see less WorldTour riders coming over to win the crit racing jersey, because, of course, very little of that exits in their professional life, and they would probably have very few opportunities to wear the jersey. 

“We know that crit racing is a very, very different style of racing. It’s in the red, from the get-go. It’s fast, it’s dangerous, it’s tactical. It’s everything. Again, a very, very different style of

racing. It’s long efforts. Max intervals. 

“If we remember Wiv-Sungod, who have now folded, were really the masters of the crit racing scene in the UK. They’d built a really phenomenal crit racing team and of course, when Matt Bostock became National Circuit Race Champion, he’d come off a really, really big block of crit racing, like the Tour Series, the National Circuit Race Series etc. 

“Matt Bostock this year doesn’t really have the same numbers around him. I’d love to see Matt retain the jersey, I really would. I think it would be fantastic for him, I think, for that to

happen, but, of course, you need a team round you with crit racing to be really successful. 

“I’m just looking at who has the big numbers. St Piran, again, have a fairly big squad. Looks like about eight riders in that squad there. And Trinity Racing, never to be underestimated. Of course, Trinity often developing the future WorldTour stars with a direct route straight into WorldTour teams. 

“They have five riders in the race, and they tend to always be competitive. At a Tour Series, Trinity are always up there and often take a sneaky win, so let’s not write them off. 

“You’ve got Luke Rowe there and Josh Tarling. I don’t know if Luke Rowe is just going to go in there and mix things up a bit and dish out a few pain lessons. We’ll see. But wouldn’t it be

fantastic to see Luke Rowe walking away with that jersey. Could we predict INEOS-Grenadiers taking every single jersey from the nationals? Ooh. Wouldn’t that be interesting?”

Timothy John

“Yeah, wouldn’t it just. I had an object lesson many years ago, Phil, in the strength of WorldTour riders in crit races when I watched Ian Stannard lap the entire field at the London Nocturne in 2013. 

“I’d interviewed Ian a couple of days earlier, and he’d said: ‘It’s been a few years since I’ve ridden a crit.’ He lapped the entire field! Alex Dowsett achieved the same feat two years earlier. So, yeah, my advice? Discount a WorldTour rider in a crit race at your peril.” 
 
INTERLUDE

Outro

Timothy John 

“Phil, thank-you very much indeed for joining me today and sharing your insights. We are in for an amazing National Road Championships, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. 

“It starts, as we say, this Wednesday, June 21, with the time-trials. It resumes two days later on Friday 23 with the circuit races in Redcar. And it climaxes this Sunday, June 25, with

road races in East Cleveland. 

Thank-you very much everybody for listening. Be sure to follow @velouk and @AussieLarry on Twitter during these championships, and, of course, follow @brothercycling. We're on all three channels. 

“Be sure too to tune in to the television coverage on GCN+, Discovery+ and ITV4. British cycle sport needs television coverage and to justify that it needs viewers. 

“Play your part, book your seat on the sofa, and enjoy this wonderful National Road Championships.”

MUSIC

 

 

 

 

 

 

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