National Road-Racing Championships 2015: Nationals mark rising profile with cobbled climbs

The National Road-Racing Championships, which start today in Lincoln, have rarely been so coveted

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With Great Britain’s international cycling success reaching unprecedented heights in the last few years, it is perhaps no surprise that the medals on offer in the country’s National Road-Racing Championships, which start today in Lincoln, have rarely been so coveted.

First held as a single unified series of races in 1959 – after years of two separate events held by rival organisations, the British League of Racing Cyclists and the National Cyclists Union – the National Championships have always been a hard-fought, key part of the British cycling season.

But with riders of the global status of Lizzie Amitstead, Nicole Cooke, Mark Cavendish, Sir Bradley Wiggins, David Millar, Pete Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas all wearing the national champion’s jersey in recent years, the subsequent increase in media and public interest has provided a huge, and continuing, boost to the Nationals’ status at home and abroad in recent years.

“It’s got a lot more prestige, given the rise of the sport, and what our GB riders have done internationally,” says John Herety, whose JLT-Condor team will be fielding one of the favourites, former national champion Kristian House, in Sunday’s road race.

When Herety clinched the national title at professional level by outsprinting the future Tour de France leader Sean Yates in Harrogate in 1982, it was a very different story. “When I won it my trade team sponsors [Europe-based squad Coop Mercier] didn’t even want to make me a jersey with the national colours on it. Now it’s definitely recognised, abroad as well, that if you’re British national champion, you’re pretty special.”

The highlight of the competition is the men’s and women’s road races on Sunday, when the Nationals pay a well-deserved homage to one of British domestic cycling’s most hallowed events, the Lincoln Grand Prix, which will act as this year’s edition of the longstanding race.

The outstanding feature, just as it is in the annual Lincoln GP, will be the Michaelgate, a 300-metre cobbled climb with a gradient of 12 per cent, to be tackled five times by the women’s race and nine times by the men, with the finish at the summit.

Some 8,000 spectators will crowd into the Michaelgate to see who will succeed defending road-race champions Kennaugh and Laura Trott. “It’s a big deal now, fans come to make a weekend of it,” says Herety, who forecasts, in the men’s race at least, a lone winner from a breakaway move.