A hair raising descent. A fight for position. A moment of calm before a wall of noise and the climb to the Cathedral.
The Lincoln Grand Prix is one of the most cherished classics in Britain. The race is both physically and technically challenging, and the winner will be a complete bike rider who can tame the narrow Lincolnshire roads, ferocious competition, and the unforgiving cobbles on the Michaelgate climb in the centre of Lincoln.
The list of past winners is long and illustrious, and the circuit saw an epic duel in the 2015 National Championships between Mark Cavendish, Ian Stannard, and Peter Kennaugh that was only settled on the final climb of the race. This course can provide a huge amount of excitement and uncertainty into the final metres.
Since 2015, Lincoln has hosted a women’s race as well. This year will be no different and may see its fair share of drama - the 2018 race was also decided in a battle up the slopes of Michaelgate.
The men’s race is 169km long and 13 laps, while the women face 104km and 8 laps.
The Lincoln Grand Prix is a kermesse by any other name - narrow stretches of grippy road, punctuated by sharp corners and abundant traffic islands. It can be better to think of each lap as its own individual race.
Lincoln itself is full of road furniture, which serves to heighten the tension in the bunch before a white knuckle descent through Burton. It's only short but, with brick walls either side and two 90 degree turns, a slip here can end your race, your season, or even your career. The descent has been smoother since the road was resurfaced, but the danger remains ever present.
Coming straight after the descent is Fen Lane. Not challenging, but potholed and too narrow to move up the bunch. The race turns left onto a wide arterial road before winding back into Lincoln via a leg sapping climb past the feed zone.
Next, re-read the first paragraph - as the road pinches and narrows, crashes and traffic jams are inevitable. Being towards the front as the bunch hits Michaelgate is vitally important, not just for safety, but also to avoid a prolonged chase over the top of the climb.
A 200 slog up the climb of Michaelgate in the centre of Lincoln. A sharp left turn at the bottom of a fast descent leads to Hungate, where the smooth road gives way to hard cobbles and a cheering crowd. The surface is jarring, but not particularly hard to ride, and there is a smooth channel on either side that offers respite at the risk of striking your pedal on the curb.
The gradient reaches 20%, the effort can take at least 30 seconds, and line choice matters; taking the inside line on the final right hander mere meters before the finish line can almost guarantee victory. This will be worth remembering on Sunday as four of the past five men’s editions have ended in a showdown on Michaelgate, and 3 of the past four women’s races.
This year will see five previous winners take to the start line and a strong field to battle for the win in the men’s race.
Expect Canyon dhb to show strongly as Alex Richardson is on good form - currently leading the Holland Cup - and Rory Townsend has had a fine spring leading into this race, along with his 2nd place in 2017.
Conor Swift (Madison Genesis) won the first round of the Tour Series on Thursday, although his national champion’s jersey will mark him out on the road.
Scott Thwaites (Vitus) is another previous winner on good form. He took 2 top 10 stage finishes and 8th on GC at the recent Tour de Yorkshire.
James Shaw (Swift Carbon Pro Cycling) was the highest placed domestic rider at the Tour de Yorkshire and has spent a good amount of time racing in Belgium; expect James to ride strongly and race for the win.
Gabriel Cullaigh almost won the Rutland Classic and would be hailed as the winner had it not been for the lack of a bike throw. He is clearly on good form and could fare very well if a small group comes to the finish together.
The women's race is wide open this year, with only Rebecca Durrell of Brother-UK Tifosi p/b On Form back to defend her 2018 title. Durrell's team will be on the start line in force and with plenty of strength in depth; teammate Anna Henderson currently leads the National Series rankings and won the East Cleveland Klondike in April.
Joscelin Lowden (Brother UK Fusion RT) took 2nd at Klondike and will to be looking to one better this time. Her team will be well place to help her, with strong riders like Rebecca Johnson in winning form recently.
Elynor Backstedt has had an incredible run of form for Storey Racing in the past few weeks. As a junior rider with prodigious talent, Elynor is one to watch; she finished a tough edition of the Tour de Yorkshire on restricted junior gearing and has taken numerous victories throughout the year so far.
Jess Roberts is the reigning National Champion and winner of the first round of the 2019 Tour Series, so we can expect to see the jersey well represented towards the front of the race this year.
Dry, some cloud, 14 degrees with a gentle 15kmh breeze from the North, panning to an Easterly wind as the day goes on - probably not enough to shape the race. Instead, we get perfect Spring Classic weather midway through May!
HOW TO WATCH
The women start at 9:00, and the men at 13:00. If you’re heading to Lincoln, aim for the centre of town and the climb to the finish.
TV highlights will be on Eurosport next week:
Men’s Chestnut Homes Lincoln Grand Prix: 21.30, 16 May
Women’s Chestnut Homes Lincoln Grand Prix: 21.30 17 May