Prudential’s RideLondon is the biggest weekend in the British capital’s cycling calendar. The professional road events, the men’s Classic and women’s Classique, offer the most generous prize purses of any single-day races in the world.
Based on the one used in the 2012 Olympic Road Race, the route for the men’s 193-kilometre race is similar to that of the mass participant sportive, which takes place just a few hours earlier.
The race starts on the Mall, dashing through the poshest bits of West London, cutting south into Richmond Park, Kingston and into Surrey proper.
Where it gets interesting is the Surrey Hills.
A figure of eight design, the Surrey circuit takes in a single ascent of Leith Hill, before heading round to twice tackle Ranmore Road.
What sets Surrey apart is the winding, narrowness of the lanes, which provide plenty of places to hide. As we’ve seen in the past, it’s not easy for breaks to get away, but when they do, they have a fighting chance of staying clear for a while at least.
It’s once up Box Hill where the race gives its obligatory salute to 2012, before heading for home.
The route opens back up again just before Esher, at which point we’ll know whether the break stands any chance at all.
Saturday’s RideLondon Classique is a completely different beast to the men’s Classic. Unlike the men’s out-and-back road course, the women’s race takes place over twelve 5.5km laps on the Saturday afternoon.
While it’s hard not to feel that the women are, once again, being forced to fight for scraps, there is another way to look at it.
Firstly, the kermesse-style criterium is much better suited to in-person spectating, allowing fans twelve separate opportunities to see the riders. What’s more, unlike the men’s event, it’s possible to get a sense of what’s going on in the race.
The Saturday also happens to be the more family-friendly day of the whole weekend, when part of central London’s roads are closed to traffic and attract mum, dads and children from all far afield to ride around them as part of the RideLondon Freecycle.
From Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square and Parliament, the women’s route is strewn with tourist landmarks, presenting photo opportunities galore.
So nearly but… not really.
The men’s race saw Geraint Thomas accidentally get away on his own. Along with team-mate Ian Stannard, the Welshman joined a small breakaway up the road. He said goodbye to that group on Box Hill, expecting at least one other to join him, only to find himself friendless, and with no option but to go for it alone.
Thomas crossed Putney Bridge with a thirty-second lead. It looked like he might make it. And then the TV feed cut out.
When it returned, the race was back together and Thomas was nowhere to be seen. After the peloton rode under Admiralty Arch onto the Mall, Tom Boonen sprinted to victory. Seemingly ignored by his fellow contenders, the Belgian snuck round the right to take one of the last victories of his career.
The Prudential RideLondon Classique saw 90 minutes of aggressive racing on a technical course.
Though RaboLiv did well to control the bunch, the lucrative sprint prizes on offer invited attacks aplenty. Lucinda Brand took the first of those on lap three before stealing a march on the peloton. She would end up claiming the lion’s share of the rest to be crowned Queen of the Sprints.
The race was mostly back together by the final lap. The riders came round the tight last bend and into the wide final straight strung out in a long line, before spreading out to make use of the whole road.
Positioning was crucial, and with 200 metres to go, the commanding figure of Kirsten Wild took to the front and stayed clear to win by a bike’s length ahead of Nina Kessler.
Hannah Barnes might well have been on the podium had she not experienced “a bike malfunction”, but still managed to claim ninth, with younger sister Alice one place behind her.
The Men’s Teams
Its promotion to the WorldTour has seen the Classic double its take-up of the top tier teams from seven to fourteen. The only ones not appearing on Sunday are Astana, Bahrain-Merida, FDJ and Movistar.
This obviously reduces the opportunities for lower ranked teams, with domestic outfits in particular taking a hit.
Amongst Pro Conti invitees, we will however, be treated to a Wanty-Groupe Gobert team fresh from a creditable debut at the Tour de France. Also attending are Aqua Blue Sport, whose roster includes 2015 winner Adam Blythe and Rouleur columnist Larry Warbasse.
Michael Matthews is the fast-man to beat. The Tour de France green jersey should bring his best form, and if it comes down to a sprint it could be between him and Andrew Greipel.
Another German who missed out at the Tour, Trek-Segafredo’s John Degenkolb, will also be looking to make up for a so-so season.
The Women’s Teams
The Classique has again attracted some of the strongest riders on the Women’s WorldTour, including three former champions and a host of Olympians.
Supported by home favourite Dani King, Kirsten Wild (Cylance Pro Cycling) will try to defend her title while 2015 winner Italy’s Barbara Guarischi will be looking to wrest it back.
Team pursuit gold medallist Katie Archibald leads the way for Team WNT Pro Cycling, who are appearing for the first time in the event. Marianne Vos returns to London hoping for a repeat of her victory in the 2012 Olympic Road Race.
Flanders winner and Voxwomen rider of the spring Coryn Rivera will also fancy her chances.
Start / Finish
Classique: Saturday 29th July, 5pm / 7.30pm (approx)
Classic: Sunday 30th July, 1.30pm / 5.10pm (approx)
2016 Tom Boonen (Belgium)
2015 Jean-Pierre Drucker (Luxembourg)
2014 Adam Blythe (Great Britain)
2013 Arnaud Démare (France)
2016 Kirsten Wild (Netherlands)
2015 Barbara Guarischi (Italy)
2014 Giorgia Bronzini (Italy)
2013 Laura Trott (Great Britain)
For those of you taking to the closed roads before the pro’s for the Prudential RideLondon, it’s not too late to get hold of some unique Rouleur kit – currently with 30% off.
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