The last time the Isle of Man hosted the British professional road championships, 1995, the race was won by Robert Millar in what is regarded by many as the finest performance in the race’s history.
On the second lap of the island, Millar led the bunch onto the climb before breaking free on his own and closing a four-minute gap to the lead group of six riders. On the descent he dropped them, one by one, crossing the line more than two minutes to the good.
The biggest surprise in recent memory was the 2009 victory of Kristian House. On that June day in Abergavenny, the Rapha-Condor-Recycling man wasn’t even supposed to be one of the main players for his own team, let alone outshine the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish. When the break went, however, House made it, his team-mates didn’t.
The race came down to a three-up sprint between House, Peter Kennaugh and Dan Lloyd. House grabbed Kennaugh’s wheel on the last corner and went past him. “Everything came together on that one day.”
While 1996 might represent the official start of the modern era in British Cycling, the age of Team Sky has been an defining epoch all of its own. Money talks, and if Team Sky’s annual budget looms large over those of most teams in the World Tour, it positively dwarfs that of every domestic UK squad.
No surprise then, that no matter what the course, they always seem to come up with someone. Since the team debuted in the 2010 season, seven of the nine winners of the Championships have worn the black of Sky. In not a single year has at least one of their riders failed to make the podium.
Still, it seems almost perverse that easily their most dominant performance occurred in their very first British Championships road race, over fifteen laps of a 12-kilometre course, around Pendle in Lancashire.
The race went from the gun, driven by an early break which included Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh and Ian Stannard. They quickly established several minutes advantage before a trio of riders – David Millar, Ian Bibby and Dan Fleeman – gave chase. Hearing over the radio that Millar was heading their way, the Team Sky riders pressed on. The crowds enjoyed the heat, the riders did not. Millar exploded in spectacular fashion with five laps to go.
It was always a question of when the non-Sky riders would fall, not whether they would, and it soon came down to three. Within the team, Kennaugh and Thomas had the advantage on the climb but the heavier Stannard could make up for it on the descent, sticking with his team-mates into the penultimate lap.
Kennaugh tried to break Thomas on the final ascent but the Welshman matched his every move, before claiming a few yards of advantage that he was able to hold to the line. The 1-2-3 for Team Sky, with not one other rider within five and a half minutes.
Despite a population of less than 90,000, roughly the same as that of Stevenage, the Rock has a rather astonishing track (and road) record of world class bike rider production.
In the Eighties, local Steve Joughin took two British national titles, winning the 1984 race on the Isle of Man. Marie Purvis, who only started competitive cycling at the age of 26, would become the first British winner of a stage at the Tour de France Féminin in 1993.
More recently, there’s been Mark Cavendish and Peter Kennaugh, of course, but also Jonny Bellis, who rode for Saxo Bank. There’s the Christian siblings, Anna and Mark, as well. Both performed strongly the last time they raced on British soil, at the women’s and men’s Tour de Yorkshire, finishing 12th and 7th respectively.
The 2017 Course
The men’s and women’s races will both start with the same island-wide loop used in the world renowned Manx TT, before finishing on a smaller inner circuit. Starting and finishing in Douglas, the men will complete two laps of the outer course, followed by ten of the inner. The women will do one large lap, and six of the finishing circuit.
There is hardly a flat kilometre to be seen anywhere on the outer circuit, and Snaefell Mountain is where the road really rears up. The Strava segment records it as being 12km at a genteel 3 per cent gradient, but don’t be deceived. The second half of that is mostly rolling with the first six kilometres averaging around 8 per cent, including sections of up to 15 per cent.
The time-trials will take place on a 22.2km circuit over on the west side of the island. The men will complete two laps, the women (as well as the under-23s) one.
Men’s Road Race Field
The men’s British Championships race has tended to spread the wealth around a bit, with no one rider having won it more than twice in its twenty-year modern history. (Before 1995, the amateur and professional events were run separately.)
As this year’s is happening on home turf, Peter Kennaugh will be looking to buck that trend. Having taken two bronze and two silver medals at previous British Championships, the 28-year-old is already the most decorated rider in the history of the race.
Mark Cavendish, the Isle of Man’s other favourite son, rides his first one-day event since March. The former world champion was struck down with the Epstein-Barr virus in the spring, and the national championships are his last chance to prove to his team that he can be fit – and, just as important, competitive – for the Tour de France.
Adam Blythe of Team Aqua Blue Sport starts as defending champion, with team-mate and local lad Mark Christian by his side. Although his primary focus is the time-trial, with five skinsuits to his name already, Movistar’s Alex Dowsett will also be riding in the longer event.
The full line-up includes a total of six riders from Team Sky, including Tao Geoghegan Hart, Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe, but two notable absentees from the start list are Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.
Women’s Road Race Field
Hannah Barnes will be looking to defend her title and comes into the race in good form, having beaten sister Alice to the best British rider’s jersey at the Women’s Tour earlier in the month.
Three-time champion Lizzie Deignan, who tends to win in odd-numbered years (2011, 2013 and 2015), will be trying for a fourth set of national stripes.
The line-up also includes Olympic medallists Dani King, Katie Archibald and Elinor Barker. Flying the Brattagh Vannin on the women’s side is Alice Barnes’ Drops teammate Anna Christian.
Thursday 22 June – time-trials
Women: 11am – 22.2km
Under-23 men: 1pm – 22.2km
Men: 6:30pm – 44.4km
Sunday 25 June – road races
Women: 9:00am – 103.73km
Men: 1:45pm – 193.7km
Women’s Road Race
2016 Hannah Barnes
2015 Lizzie Armitstead
2014 Laura Trott
2013 Lizzie Armitstead
2012 Sharon Laws
Men’s Road Race
2016 Adam Blythe
2015 Peter Kennaugh
2014 Peter Kennaugh
2013 Mark Cavendish
2012 Ian Stannard
Women’s Time Trial
2016 Hayley Simmonds
2015 Hayley Simmonds
2014 Emma Pooley
2013 Joanna Rowsell
2012 Wendy Houvenaghel
Men’s Time Trial
2016 Alex Dowsett
2015 Alex Dowsett
2014 Bradley Wiggins
2013 Alex Dowsett
2012 Alex Dowsett