For the first time in more than two decades, the Isle of Man is hosting the HSBC British National Road Championships over the next few days.
Not since Robert Millar’s victory over the TT course in 1995 has British Cycling’s premier road race been held on Manx shores but there are strong hopes for a local winner in this year’s event.
No fewer than 18 Manx or island-based riders are taking part in this week’s championships, which begin today (Thursday) with the women’s time trial at 11am.
Leading the local charge in the opening event are Drops Cycling duo Anna Christian and Lizzie Holden as well as Team Manx Telecom’s Emily Looker.
Having won the women’s British Junior Road Race title in 2013 Christian will be keen to add a senior title to her palmares, especially on home soil, but she will face stiff competition.
Hayley Simmonds (Team WNT) will start as favourite as she aims to make it a hat-trick of successive titles having topped the podium in 2015 and 2016.
Former Junior Time Trial World Champion Elinor Barker (Matrix Pro Cycling) will also fancy her chances of winning the national title, as will Simmonds’ WNT team-mate Katie Archibald and 2016 road race champion Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRM).
The presentation takes place in St John’s at 12.40pm, with the men’s under-23 time trial getting underway 20 minutes later at 1pm.
History could be made in the junior event when Scott Davies (Team Wiggins) bids for a record fourth consecutive u23 title, while local hopes lie solely with his team-mate Nathan Draper who has enjoyed a fine debut season with the British team.
Matthew Gibson (JLT Condor) and Charlie Tanfield (Brother NRG DriverPlan) should also be amongst the frontrunners, while British Cycling Team senior academy riders Adam Hartley, Reece Wood and Jacob Hennessy are ones to watch out for in the 44-strong field.
After the u23 presentation at 2.50pm, there is then a considerable gap before the climax to the opening day, the elite men’s time trial, gets underway at 6.30pm.
The undoubted favourite to grace the top step on the podium is Alex Dowsett who is hoping to claim a brilliant sixth national champions’ jersey - which not surprisingly would also be a record.
His nearest challenge is expected to come from last year’s second and third-place men James Gullen (JLT Condor) and Ryan Perry (Team Raleigh GAC), as well as former under-23 champion Sam Harrison (Team Wiggins) and the Team Sky duo of Owain Doull and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
There will be a strong Manx contingent in this race, with no fewer than eight local or island-based riders being named in the 43-strong startlist.
Leading the charge will be Mark Christian riding for Aqua Blue Sport and Team Sky’s Ian Stannard who will hopefully both feature towards the top end of the results.
There are also four Manx Viking Wheelers CC members competing, namely John Sanderson, Dave Radcliffe, Warwick Sanderson and Elliot Baxter, while Novo Nordisk’s Sam Brand and Ellan Vannin’s Jamie Fletcher complete the line-up.
The main championship events take place on Sunday, with the women’s road race kicking off proceedings at 9am taking in one lap of the TT course followed by six laps of the finishing course which sees riders head up Ballanard Road before heading east towards Cronk-Ny-Mona, heading back to the finish on Quarter Bridge Road via Signpost Corner and Governor’s Dip.
Picking a winner in this race is tough, with several riders likely to be in contention at the finish. Former world champion Lizzie Deignan is aiming for her fourth national championship jersey but will have to hold off the attentions of sisters and Hannah and Alice Barnes who first and second in last year’s thriller in Stockton-upon-Tees.
Elinor Barker (Matrix Pro Cycling) and Katie Archibald (Team WNT) will also be ones to watch out for, but all Manx eyes will be on local stars Anna Christian and Lizzie Holden who may fancy their chances of causing an upset on home soil.
The elite men’s race at 1.45pm follows the same route but sees the peloton tackle two laps of the TT course before 10 laps of the finishing circuit.
The Isle of Man’s enviable run of of wins was ended by Adam Blythe last year when he edged out Mark Cavendish for victory, however the Manx record in the national road race championships is nothing short of phenomenal.
Including Castletown resident Ian Stannard, the Isle of Man have been represented on the elite men’s podium every single year since 2008, with Stannard himself winning in 2012 followed by Cav’s success a year later and Kennaugh’s back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015.
Cav is not expected to challenge for honours on Sunday, instead he will be using the race to return to fitness as he continues his lengthy comeback following glandular fever.
Kennaugh could make history if he wins Sunday’s race, becoming the first man to win three British National Road Race Championships, and he will be desperate to do so on home soil.
The Team Sky rider claimed arguably the biggest win of his career so far recently when he won a stage at the Criterium du Dauphine, so the Manxman will be confident of more success.
Onchan resident Ben Swift will also fancy his chances of getting on the podium this weekend, having finished runner-up to Kennaugh three years ago, while Stannard will be hoping to claim his second road race title.
Mark Christian could also be a dark horse for a podium, while there is plenty of other local interest in the main race.
The Mazzone brothers Leon (ILLI-Bikes) and Tom (Metaltek Kuota), plus Team Wiggins’ Nathan Draper, Zappi Racing, Novo Nordisk’s Sam Brand and Ellan Vannin’s Jamie Fletcher complete the Manx line-up in the 160-strong, with several of those riders competing in the under-23s class.
Keep up-to-date with the championships on www.iomtoday.co.im and Twitter @iomsportsdesk
Highlights to be broadcast on Monday, June 26 on ITV4 at 6pm and on Eurosport One at 10pm.