Cavendish and Armitstead return to defend their titles

The cream of British cycling will descend on Wales for the national championships this weekend. It is a strong field that will turn up in Abergavenny for the men's road race. The 186-kilometre route takes the riders in a large loop around the Monmouthshire countryside, before 10 laps of a shorter finishing circuit.

This is not a day that will suit defending champion Mark Cavendish and his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammate Andy Fenn, and defending his title will be a tough ask. It will be an up and down day for the peloton and we can expect a large group of riders to try and make it away.

The gaggle of Team Sky riders present will do their best to bring the nationals jersey back to the squad, with seven of their number set to be on the start-line. Peter Kennaugh has finished on the podium four times since 2008 and this may be his year to take the top spot.

It won't be straightforward for the British team, however. Reigning under-23 champion Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) will be trying his luck as a senior. Yates has had a fantastic start to the year with overall victory at the Tour of Turkey and a strong showing at the Critérium du Dauphiné. His brother Simon will also be there, after making his return to racing at the Tour of Slovenia. The two could throw a spanner into the Sky plans if they're on form.

After a commanding year that has seen her lead the World Cup standings since the very beginning, Lizzie Armitstead is the overwhelming favourite to take the women's title for the third time. The opening loop of the women's course is much shorter than the men's. It is no less challenging, however, and they will take on the same finishing circuit.

Armitstead will be the only representative of the Boels Dolmans team, but that shouldn't hinder her too much. The UnitedHealthcare duo of Hannah Barnes and 2012 Champion Sharon Laws could be the biggest threats to her title bid, while Emma Pooley makes her return to the national championships after skipping them last season and she will be keen to add a second title to her palmarès.

The time trial

For only the second year, the time trial will be held concurrently with the road race event. Both the men's and women's time trial routes will take the riders from the picturesque setting of the Celtic Manor, on the outskirts of Newport, with the men completing two loops. The 21-kilometre course begins with a gradual ascent, twisting and turning through as it leaves the manor behind. They then dive onto a dual carriageway, before taking a sharp turn back on themselves towards Madam Roger’s wood and the finish line at the manor.

The wide-open fields are susceptible to winds from any direction, but the rain is what will worry riders the most. After several weeks of basking in sunshine, rain is expected to fall on Thursday. The women should avoid it, but with their afternoon start the men are set to begin as it is due to fall.

Alex Dowsett will be looking to take his fourth consecutive national title. It should be a closely run fight, with Sky teammates Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas hoping to end his run. Wiggins was the last rider to win, prior to Dowsett's run, with two titles in 2009 and 2010. After missing out on a Tour de France spot, Wiggins is likely to be even more focused on the Nationals than he has in the past.

Thomas has finished on the podium in the past and is on good form as he heads into the weekend. He will know the roads well and may be able to use that to take an advantage over his rivals.

In the women's event, Joanna Rowsell can expect a tough fight as she defends her title. The course is much lumpier than the one on which she captured the title 12 months ago in Glasgow. Armitstead, who finished second to her in Scotland, should favour the course more than her track racing rival. 2010 World Time Trial Champion Pooley will also be a serious favourite to take the title.

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Born in Ireland to a cycling family and later moved to the Isle of Man, so there was no surprise when I got into the sport. Studied sports journalism at university before going on to do a Masters in sports broadcast. After university I spent three months interning at Eurosport, where I covered the Tour de France. In 2012 I started at Procycling Magazine, before becoming the deputy editor of Procycling Week. I then joined Cyclingnews, in December 2013.

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