The British National Championships took place for the first time in over 800 days last week — the 2020 event was cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic, with the 2021 race delayed further to October. The hold-ups mean we have become accustomed to seeing 2019 winner, Ben Swift, donning the British jersey.
However, the defending champion didn’t enter the road race as the heavy favourite. Instead, that tag lay on the shoulders of his younger teammate, Ethan Hayter. The 23-year-old has shone this season, collecting nine victories on the road including at the Tour of Norway, Vuelta a Andalucia and Tour of Britain.
Hayter also entered the road race after winning the 45km individual time trial comfortably, as well as the night time criterium. Only Steve Cummings (2017) and David Millar (2007) have done the time trial/road race double at the British Championships since the turn of the century. Hayter wouldn’t match them this year, however.
A four-man group featuring Swift, Dan McLay, Fred Wright and Harry Tanfield escaped with just a couple of laps remaining around the Lincoln-based circuit, which was characterised by the cobbled Michaelgate climb. The perilous ascent dispatched McLay, whilst Tanfield knew he had to try a solo escape to win. However, all of Tanfield's moves were closely covered by Wright and Swift.
With Hayter chasing swiftly (pun not intended) behind, now only with Lewis Askey for company (who joins Groupama-FDJ’s WorldTour outfit) next season, Swift had the luxury of sitting on at the front. Wright and Tanfield knew they couldn't afford to let Hayter back in, so were forced to continue riding with Swift surfing their wheels.
Despite Hayter and Askey’s best efforts, they weren’t able to join the front of the race by the final ascent of Michaelgate. This left Wright and Swift slogging it out for the British stripes up the cobbled climb, with Swift ultimately edging out his younger rival in a thrilling finish. Although Hayter hadn't joined the trio at the foot of Michaelgate, he came exceedingly close, finishing just seven seconds behind the winner after a storming finish.
Swift rebounds after troublesome year
Ben Swift celebrates consecutive British road race titles (Image credit: Will Palmer/SWpix)
Swift pumped his fist and roared as he crossed the line to retain the British jersey. He was not only celebrating defeating Fred Wright in a gruelling contest, but also an encouraging result after a challenging season.
After celebrating his victory, Swift said, “It was an incredible day. I’ve had a bit of an up and down year. I’ve had my second child Harry. But in terms of personal results, it just didn’t go that well at the beginning and middle of the year. To finish it off like this, I’m really happy.”
Swift and Hayter were Ineos’ only two representatives in the road race, so their cooperation was pivotal. Swift spoke about working with Hayter, “Luckily I’ve worked with him quite a lot this year and I’ve seen how talented he is and how much of an outstanding year he’s had, and what a career he’s going to have in the future. It was nice to keep this one off his shoulders! But having a teammate like Ethan, who is by far, probably, the strongest rider in the race, and then my experience. We obviously worked pretty well together.”
Swift is still looking to secure a contract for 2022, and has noted that he's eager to remain an Ineos Grenadier.
Fred Wright’s promising development continues
Image credit: Will Palmer/SWpix
Harry Tanfield's non-stop attacks in the final kilometres were diligently followed by a sprightly Fred Wright. Considering Ineos' tactical advantage in the closing kilometres, defeating both Hayter and Swift was always going to be testing. But Wright ran the Ineos duo mighty close.
The Londoner signed with Bahrain-Victorious last season, where he has made steady progress. He started his first Grand Tour at last year’s Vuelta a España, where his best finish was a respectable fourth place on the uphill drag to Puebla de Sanabria. His development has continued into his second WorldTour season, which led to Tour de France selection for the first time.
Although he missed out on the national stripes this year, Wright’s performance is another affirmation of his talent. The 22-year-old may be one to watch particularly closely in his third WorldTour season.
Young Guns Shine
Groupama-FDJ's Lewis Askey finished fifth (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
The array of youngsters displaying their talents in the road race demonstrates the promising state of British cycling at present. If we discount the 33-year-old Swift, the average age of the other four riders in the top five plummets to just 22.
Fifth-place finisher Lewis Askey was on the offensive throughout, which is already an obvious trait of his. The 20-year-old Groupama-FDJ graduate finished fifth in the U23 World Championships in Flanders last month and also won a stage of the Ronde de l’Isard after an uphill drag to Lannemezan. Still just 20 years old, Groupama-FDJ clearly have their hands on a very promising talent.
The theme of prominent youngsters continued through the top ten. 20-year-old Leo Hayter, the younger brother of Ethan, finished eighth just three days after winning the U23 time trial. Further down the leaderboard, Samuel Watson, who is also 20, rounded out the top ten. He’ll join the Groupama-FDJ development team in 2022, who have found a knack of spotting talented British youngsters.
Cover image: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix