THIS YEAR will, Neah Evans knows, be entirely different from any other year in her career.

Having won her maiden world title at the tail-end of 2022, Evans will don the rainbow stripes this season and that, the 32-year-old cyclist knows, changes everything.

“I’m aware there’s a huge, flashing target on my back now,” she says.

“As world champion, I’ll be wearing the rainbow stripes in the points race, for a lot of people, their tactics will be to follow me and their achievement will be to beat me, which is quite a thought.”

Evans’ maiden world title was some time in the making.

Having established herself as a mainstay of GB’s women’s team pursuit squad over the past few years, Evans had picked up a raft of global major championship medals, including Olympic silver in 2021, but gold had eluded her.

However, a stunning performance in France last October saw her crowned world points champion and she knows the rainbow stripes attract attention like nothing else.

Her first significant outing wearing the rainbow jersey will be at this week’s British Championships – she rode a low-key outing in Copenhagen just before Christmas – and Evans is bracing herself for her scalp being on the mind of almost every other female rider in Newport.

“Things haven’t felt that different for me so far but I know that when I line up for a points race, things will feel very different,” says Evans, who spent Christmas training in Tenerife before heading to Spain for a GB training camp.

“It’s a massive thing to have the rainbow stripes and it’s so cool to have them. But it does mean you stick out in the bunch.

“When you’re wearing the rainbow stripes, you can’t help but have this cheesy smile on your face but then I’m also thinking ‘oh no, I hope I don’t mess up’.

“I’ve reached the stage in my career where yes, the British Championships are important but they are a stepping stone to bigger goals so I know going into this week I won’t quite be my very best self but I still want to see how I can do.”

The “other things” that Evans refers to are, primarily, the World Championships in Glasgow in August, which will potentially give her the opportunity to defend her title on home soil.

She is well aware of the increased pressure a home championships bring but Evans is nothing if not level-headed and within hours of claiming her world title she had, more or less, come to terms with what this year will bring.

“The day after I got back from the Worlds, everyone was off doing other things and so I thought I’m going to go out for a ride,” she says.

“I ended up being out for six hours and actually, it was great because I could get a bit of head space and by the time I got back home, I’d processed everything that had happened, had got my head around being world champion and I was ready to push on because I know I’ve still got more to do.

“Glasgow is the main focus for me this year. It’s very exciting to race in front of a home crowd – some people never get that opportunity so for me to get this chance off the back of a very successful World Championships is fantastic, but also a bit daunting.

“I would love the opportunity to defend my points title in Glasgow so my main early season goal is to make sure I get myself in the best shape possible so that by the time World Championship selection comes round, I’m in a good place.”

There is, admits Evans, a dauntingly fine line between pushing yourself to the limit, and tipping over the edge.

However, the past few years, and in particular following her world championships triumph, her mindset has shifted slightly which will, she hopes, see her hit even higher heights this season.

These British Championships, where she will race the points race, individual pursuit and scratch race, may not be where she shows her very best form but that will, she is optimistic, come as the season progresses.

“So many people can go through their entire career and get so close and still never win a world title so to have actually done it is huge, it means so much,” she says.

“And then the next thought is how can I do it again? I feel like I’m still developing and still improving and so it is exciting to think how far I can push it.”

Also in action at this week’s Championships is Olympic medallist Jack Carlin and although Katie Archibald is absent, the sizeable Scottish contingent, which also includes Jonny Wale, Jenny Holl, Kate Richardson and, in the para events, Fin Graham, will all be in the hunt for silverware.