The 2014 British Cycling National Road Championships will see the elite men’s and women’s title holders return to defend their crowns in Monmouthshire on 26 June.
The time-trial will be opening day of the two-day championships, with the elite men’s, women’s and under-23 men’s time-trials taking place on fully-closed roads on Thursday. The road races for all categories will follow on Sunday 29 June.
Race organisers have exploited Monmouthshire’s topography to create a challenging, technical and hilly course for the 2014 edition, with the climb through the Celtic Manor resort at the finish of the lap its highlight.
Women and under-23 men will tackle one lap of the 21-kilometre course, while the elite men will face the course’s climbs twice in their 42-kilometre effort.
Defending champion Alex Dowsett will return to Britain of the back of nine day’s racing in Tour du Suisse with eyes on an unprecedented fourth straight title having won the jersey in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Dowsett overcame a crash and a mechanical to beat Matt Bottrill by 21 seconds in Glasgow last year, with Ben Swift a split-second behind in bronze.
The Movistar pro will face Bottrill again in Monmouthshire but the competition is likely to be further intensified by the presence of Sir Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas on a course that suits climbers.
"I think this year's going to be the hardest nationals I've ever had, In terms of fighting to keep the jersey.” said Dowsett. “Obviously with Brad and Geraint here it's not going to be easy.
"Brad's and Geraint's climbing ability are both second to none but it's not always about how well you go up climbs in a hilly time trial - it's how well you manage the whole thing. That's something I think I can do quite well."
Welshman Luke Rowe, fifth in last year’s event, will complete the formidable Team Sky challenge and like Thomas, will have plenty of home support behind him. 2013 bronze medallist Ben Swift is not in the starting lineup for Team Sky, the 26-year-old Yorkshireman concentrating on the road race.
Also competing is 2010 Commonwealth Games time-trial gold medallist David Millar, who won the national title back in 2007.
Defending champion Joanna Rowsell won her 2013 crown on relatively flat roads outside Glasgow but is relishing a different test in 2014.
Rowsell completed the Stewarton course 32 seconds faster that Lizzie Armistead, with Katie Colclough a further minute and five seconds down.
Margins may be closer in 2014, with the shorter 21-kilometre course serving up some sharp climbs, most notably at the end, with Rowsell describing the final drag to the line as “like a climb in Fleche Wallone”.
Whilst on paper this might suit adept climbers like Armitstead, the track and time-time specialist is confident in her form.
“It’s so very different to the usual time-trials that I'm used to,” she said. “But I'm really looking forward to the challenge of something a bit different.
"I think that suits me as a track rider,” she continued. “We're used to doing big capacity efforts for three to four minutes long so hopefully that will play into my hands. We'll see."
Rowsell’s rivals may come from within her Great Britain team pursuit squad. Katie Archibald, riding for Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International in particular touted by Rowsell as a key threat.
So too is Archibald’s teammate Dame Sarah Storey, who has enjoyed a successful return to top-flight competition this year following the birth of her daughter.
However the terrain may see 2010 world time-trial champion Emma Pooley retake the national jersey that she held in 2009 and 2010. The Lotto Belisol Ladies rider takes the start riding for VC Norwich and excels in hilly events against the clock.
2013 champion Sam Harrison was set to defend his title until illness ruled him out with just hours to go. So with a host of emerging talents contesting the short, sharp 21-kilometre course, the race is wide open.
Harrison comfortably beat Joe Perrett to the title in 2013, with George Atkins over a minute further back in bronze. Perrett is now over 23 and Atkins is absent but there’s no shortage of talent coming through to take their place.
Foremost is British Cycling Olympic Academy Programme rider Owain Doull. The 21-year-old Cardiff man is contesting the road race and the time-trial and has an eye on both jerseys.
"I know the roads really well with it being a bit lumpy it helps as well but there are lot of good under-23 riders for the time-trial as well - Jon Dibben, Scott Davies. There's pretty stiff competition,” he said.
Jon Dibben was fifth in 2013 behind Lotto-Belisol’s Dan McLay, who also competes this year, while 18-year-old sensation Scott Davies will be amongst the youngest in the 30-man field.
British Cycling will be providing live updates from the championships at www.britishcycling.org.uk/nationalroadchampionshipslive.