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British National Road Race Championships 2017: eight riders to watch

Peter Kennaugh and Mark Cavendish race on home roads on the Isle of Man; Hannah Barnes and Adam Blythe defend their titles

Adam Blythe and Hannah Barnes will defend their blue, white and red jerseys on the Isle of Man on Sunday, in the British National Road Race Championships.

After Steve Cummings and Claire Rose were crowned national time trial champions, attention now turns to the road races, using the bulk of the courses run for the Isle of Man TT motorsport race.

Adam Blythe celebrates his victory in Stockton last year (pic: Allan McKenzie/SWPix.com)

A fast, technical course awaits on twisting roads with a finishing loop including the climb up Scollag Road, with locals – and former champions – Mark Cavendish and Peter Kennaugh among those in the mix in the men’s road races.

So what can we expect from this Sunday’s races, and who could return with the blue, white and red-striped jerseys?

Let’s take a closer look…

Elite men

The Isle of Man provided the British road race champion in three consecutive years between 2013 and 2015, before Adam Blythe’s victory last time out in Stockton.

Mark Cavendish took the British champion’s jersey to the 2013 Tour de France, before Peter Kennaugh won in 2014 and 2015.

Now, both men have a point to prove: the former as he looks to prove his form and fitness ahead of the Tour de France, after a lengthy lay-off with glandular fever – and the latter after being overlooked for Team Sky’s Tour squad.

Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky)

Kennaugh has won on tough courses like this before, not just at the nationals, with his Lincoln GP wins in 2013 and 2015 coming to mind.

He also has the form, as he showed with his victory on Alpe d’Huez at the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month.

Manxman Peter Kennaugh won on Alpe d’Huez at the Criterium du Dauphine to prove his form (pic – Sirotti)

The 28-year-old has proved his calibre at the nationals on multiple occasions – his two victories in 2014 and 2015 followed three previous podium finishes – and will be super-motivated to win on the Isle of Man on home roads.

Sky are sending six men to the race, with Jonathan Dibben, Owain Doull, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Tao Geoghegan Hart also present, and Kennaugh has a great chance of claiming a third victory.

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)

Mark Cavendish’s form is much more of an unknown – he finished the Tour of Slovenia, his first race since a long lay-off with glandular fever, with second on the final stage and has had a further week since then to get up to race pace.

The course on the Isle of Man is much less suited to him than last year’s race in Stockton, where he was second behind Adam Blythe, but his desire to find some form and win on home roads should not be understated.

Mark Cavendish is back in action after glandular fever (pic – RCS Sport)

Much will depend on whether he has the legs to stick with the lead group on the tough finishing circuit – which the men will take on twice – but with Steve Cummings and Scott Thwaites for company, Dimension Data will hope to have at least one man in the mix at the sharp end of this year’s race.

If he does, Cavendish will surely be in contention again but just a good race and proving he has good legs will be the key to securing a Tour de France spot.

Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates)

Ben Swift has never won the national road race, but he could not have been closer in 2014 when team-mate Kennaugh outsprinted him by the narrowest of margins.

Swift was beaten again by Kennaugh on Alpe d’Huez at the Criterium du Dauphine, but the 29-year-old claimed second place – proof of his form ahead of his targeted Tour de France appearance.

Ben Swift fights cramp on his way to second place on Alpe d’Huez (pic – Sirotti)

With Kennaugh not going to the Tour and Cavendish coming back from illness, Swift looks the best bet if the British champion’s jersey is going to go to the Tour de France.

A fast finish and an ability to cope with the lumpier, tougher stuff – see Milan San-Remo in 2014 and 2016 for even more proof – Swift has all the credentials to win a race like this.

And what better time to return to the national limelight than ahead of what is set to be his first Tour de France appearance for six years?

Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport)

Adam Blythe will defend his national title on the Isle of Man, bidding for his first victory since claiming the jersey in Stockton last year.

Second-place finishes at the Danlith-Nokere Koerse and Handzame Classic were the closest Blythe came, but he should not be written off.

Adam Blythe showcases the British champion’s jersey (pic – Sirotti)

The Aqua Blue Sport rider has the benefit of three team-mates in the race for starters, including Manxman Mark Christian – who, like Kennaugh and Cavendish, will be hugely motivated for the race on home soil.

Another team-mate, Andy Fenn, was third last year which all adds up to a decent unit for Aqua Blue Sport, with all three of Fenn, Blythe and Christian likely to do their Vuelta a Espana selection chances no harm if they can return from the Isle of Man with the national champion’s jersey.

Ian Bibby (JLT-Condor)

Away from the top two tiers of professional cycling, Ian Bibby (JLT-Condor) is one of a number of leading domestic riders hoping to mix it with the big boys.

No domestic rider has won the British national road race since Kristian House in 2009 (Team Sky have won five of the seven editions since their formation for the following year) but that does not mean it is not possible.

Ian Bibby has been in good form in 2017 (pic – Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Bibby won on the Isle of Man in 2016 at the Manx International, and will race off the back of finishing fourth at the Tour de Korea last week.

Team-mate James Gullen is also in good form, winning the An Post Ras and placing second at the Beaumont Trophy before this week’s third place in the national time trial.

Peter Williams (ONE Pro Cycling), who beat Gullen in Northumberland, is another rider in decent form, alongside team-mate Tom Stewart who finished that race in third place after winning a stage of the Szlakiem Walk Majora Hubala in Poland earlier this month.

Elite women

Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM)

Hannah Barnes defends her title in the women’s road race having finished third overall at the OVO Energy Women’s Tour, thanks to second-place stage finishes and two further top-tens during the five-stage race.

In short, Barnes is clearly peaking at the right time as far as defending her jersey is concerned as she bids to stay in blue, white and red for next week’s Giro d’Italia Femminile.

Hannah Barnes rides as British champion during the 2017 OVO Energy Women’s Tour (pic – Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

The 24-year-old was also second in the national time trial on Thursday, and so clearly has carried the form onto the Isle of Man.

Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans)

Lizzie Deignan has won this race three times in the past, winning in 2011, 2013 and 2015. With a record of victory every other year, will 2017 continue that pattern?

Rewind just less than two months, when Deignan was winning the Women’s Tour de Yorkshire and you wouldn’t have bet against it.

Lizzie Deignan celebrates winning the Women’s Tour de Yorkshire (pic – Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Since then, however, she appeared off the pace at the OVO Energy Women’s Tour and she’ll need a big jump to get back to her best form.

With the Giro d’Italia Femminile next on the cards, however, it could well be she was holding something back as she looks to peak at the right time – time will tell.

Alice Barnes (Drops Cycling)

Sister of defending champion Hannah, Alice Barnes was runner-up last year (and therefore under-23 winner) and will bid to go one better this time.

Barnes was also second behind Deignan in Lincoln in 2015, so clearly the tougher course will hold no fears for her – and she has good form, after finishing six at the OVO Energy Women’s Tour.

She was second on stage three of that race, and now has 13 top-tens to her name this season, in races as varied as the Women’s Tour, the Women’s Tour Down Under, Gent-Wevelgem and the Ronde van Drenthe.

Alice Barnes is in good form, and keen to improve on consecutive second-placed finishes (pic – Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Of the two Barnes sisters, the 21-year-old may actually be better suited to the Isle of Man course and the jersey could well change hands but stay in the family on Sunday.

Of Barnes’ may Drops Cycling team-mates expected on the startline, Manxwoman Anna Christian – sister of Mark – is likely to be another to watch on her home roads.

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