Top pros home for tough British championship

Quality field welcomes back Jonny Bellis

This year's men's British road race championship race will be a severe test of strength and stamina for the 130 riders on the start sheet. Starting in the town of Barley this Sunday, many of the top British pros will battle it out against the finest domestic riders in the UK.

There are eight Team Sky riders on the start sheet, as former British champion Russell Downing lines up with Ben Swift, Steve Cummings, Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome, Peter Kennaugh and Ian Stannard to form a powerful posse. The pressure will be on Dave Brailsford's team to produce the first rider across the line after 180km of tough racing on a hilly 7.5km circuit.

Bradley Wiggins name appears as the eighth Sky rider on the start list but he won't be riding the race ahead of another Tour de France challenge which lies ahead of him in July. Many rate Kennaugh as a potential future Tour de France contender and the current U23 champion has already won the silver and bronze medal in the last two championships.

Three top UK teams appear to have podium potential: Rapha-Condor-Sharp, Motorpoint-Marshalls Pasta and Endura Racing.

Rapha-Condor-Sharp will be out to defend the title won by Kristian House last year after he sprinted past Cervélo's Dan Lloyd in Abergavenny. House won a stage of the Tour of Japan earlier this season and Chris Newton showed that he is still a major force to be reckoned with after he won the Lincoln Grand Prix last month.

We will see if the team's recent diet of Tour Series criteriums has sharpened the riders' speed at the expense of the stamina needed to be in the saddle for five hours.

The Motorpoint-Marshalls Pasta squad has the biggest spread of ages in the team. Jonny McEvoy is still only 20 years old whilst Malcolm Elliott is at the other end of the spectrum and the Sheffield rider takes part just a few days short of his 49th birthday.

Ed Clancy is the most decorated of the team but the current Olympic team pursuit champion and track omnium world champion will have to put his climbing legs on if he wants a podium position.

The Endura Racing team will be without scoop signing Jack Bauer, who is not eligible due to his New Zealand nationality but Rob Hayles will be keen to produce the another performance liek that which saw him win him the title in 2008. This year he will be assisted by strong riders like Ian Wilkinson, Rob Partridge, Evan Oliphant, Ross Creber and James McCallum.

Cervélo Test Team field three riders - Roger Hammond and Jeremy Hunt are previous champions but Daniel Lloyd is chasing his first winner's jersey. A victory for Lloyd would be very popular with cycling fans. He won the silver medal last year and in 2007 when he finished behind David Millar (Garmin-Transitions). Cervélo has named the Bournemouth rider as first reserve for the Tour de France.

There is sure to be a special welcome for Saxo Bank's Jonathan Bellis, who lines up at his first major race since he recovered from head injuries sustained in a motor scooter accident in Italy last year. He is not expected to finish the event but it's a minor miracle that he is even back on two wheels.

Three key riders will be without the support of a team; Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC), Adam Blythe (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and David Millar will have to rely on a mixture their own ability and a little luck to be in with a chance of victory this year. Millar has done it before but there are many more riders with thousands of UCI ranked miles in their legs to beat this time.

Cavendish may not have sufficiently recovered from injuries suffered in his Tour of Switzerland crash to be on top form yet but the Manxman shows his strong character by turning up and competing for the top spot every year. The big teams will be looking to drop him on the climbs and avoid bringing him up to a sprint finish.

The circuit is on closed Lancashire roads just north of Burnley and the crowd will be treated to viewing the race 15 times. There are two major climbs on each circuit and these are expected to split the race up as legs get tired and the gaps start to appear when the hammer goes down.

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