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Will Tom Boonen continue his recent success at the biggest British one-day race?

Photo: Sirotti

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RIDE LONDON CLASSIC

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
30.07.2016 @ 23:19 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Cycling is flourishing in Great Britain and gradually the country is getting a racing calendar that matches the huge success their riders have had in recent years. After the hugely successful road race at the London Olympics, the ambitious Brits decided to build on the legacy by creating the RideLondon Classic which has firmly established itself as the biggest one-day race in the country and managed to attract a star-studded line-up for a race that finishes in spectacular surroundings in the city of London.

 

In recent years, the likes of Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins, Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas have made Great Britain a real powerhouse in professional cycling but the big stars haven’t had many opportunities to ride in front of their home fans on an annual basis. For several years, the only major event in the country had been the Tour of Britain which has become a great preparation event for the World Championships.

 

The tides are changing though. After the successful road race at the 2012 Olympics, the RideLondon Classic was created as a way to build on the legacy from that event and just two years later, the country hosted one of the most successful grand departs ever when massive crowds greeted the Tour de France for two days of racing in Yorkshire and a third stage with a finish in London.The Grand Depart was made possible by a very ambitious local committee led by Gary Verity and they were keen to use the momentum to turn the county into one of cycling’s hotbed. The means was the three-day Tour de Yorkshire and with ASO a key part of the project, the race has already been held successfully two times.

 

However, it was the RideLondon Classic that proved how to establish a new event as an integral part of the UCI calendar and since it was first held in 2013, it has already become hugely popular. Being held on a course that closely resembles the one used for the Olympic road race and finishing in the same spectacular venue in front of the Buckingham Palace, it has a solid mix of sporting challenges and external surroundings to establish itself as a key event and it is no surprise that it has already been promoted to 1.HC status. At the same time, it is held at a perfect time for the British public, just one week after the conclusion of the Tour which allows it to build on the post-Tour hype.

 

The race has been successful in attracting big foreign stars but for some reason it has had less luck when it comes to fielding the local heroes. Mark Cavendish made his debut last year, Bradley Wiggins has only done the race after he stopped his WorldTour career and Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates and Chris Froome has never attended the event. However, things are set to change for this year’s race. With a focus on the track and the Olympics, Wiggins and Cavendish will both have to skip the race but Froome and Thomas have found a rare chance to compete on home soil as they need one final hit-out before the Olympics. Even though the course doesn’t suit him, the fact that the newly-crowned Tour champion will make an appearance on home soil will only add to the hype around the race.

 

With a finish in the flat city of London, the race has been billed as a sprint race, just as it was the case for the London Olympics. However, the race really lived up the legacy from that race in the sense that the sprinters have mostly been denied. In 2012, Alexandre Vinokourov famously claimed the gold medal after the British team had failed to control things and in similar fashion, only one of the three editions of the RideLondon Classic has been for the sprinters. Arnaud Demare won the inaugural edition but in both 2014 and 2015, a small group has made the difference in the hilly terrain on the outskirts of the capital. In 2014, Adam Blythe won a sprint from a small group and last year it was Jempy Drucker who took victory from a small group following late bids for freedom from Sep Vanmarcke and Mike Teunissen. Part of the reason is the small six-rider teams that have had difficulties controlling the race in the lumpy terrain.

 

The course

The 2016 edition of the RideLondon Classic will be held on a 202.3km course that closely resembles the one used for the previous editions. Departing from Horse Guards Parade, St James’s Park in central London, the professional cyclists roll out from the heart of a historic and iconic London landscape, leaving behind the world-famous backdrop of Whitehall and Buckingham Palace, and heading out through south west London on a journey that eventually takes in eight of London’s boroughs and London’s largest Royal Park.

 

After passing through the natural beauty of Richmond Park, the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic route continues through the heart of Kingston upon Thames, then into Surrey after crossing the River Thames at Hampton Court Bridge and continues along the route made famous by both the road race and time trial events during 2012 Olympic Games. At this point, the roads are flat.

 

Retracing the Olympic route, the early stages of the race will pass through Walton-on-Thames, Weybridge and Ripley before heading to the climb of Staple Lane, which offers an outstanding view over the Surrey countryside and an initial challenge for the competitors to negotiate.

 

Once in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the riders pass through the stunning scenery as they head towards the hilly circuits in and around Dorking that will make up a big part of the racing action.

 

After cycling through Abinger Hammer and Westcott the riders will go through Dorking for the first time before heading south to Coldharbour to climb Leith Hill after 76.4km of racing.

 

Once riders have climbed Leith Hill, they will head through Dorking again before tackling three 29.3km circuits through Westhumble to Ranmore Common where a tough climb will be tackled every time, before racing back through Dorking for a final time and on to Box Hill which played a key role at the Olympics.

 

After five passages of the race through Dorking High Street, the riders head towards the fabled zig-zags to climb up onto Box Hill. Once riders in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic have reached the summit of this stunning climb, only 51.8kms of racing action remain, which take the race via Leatherhead, Oxshott and Esher to reach the finish in central London.

 

Racing back into London via Kingston upon Thames, the closing stages of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic will take the riders through Raynes Park and Wimbledon, over the ‘surprise’ climb at Wimbledon Hill, then on to Putney Bridge to cross the River Thames for a final time. The race then follows along the banks of the Thames through Chelsea and Westminster, heading past some of London’s most famous landmarks as it makes its way across Parliament Square and up Whitehall to the 1km to go banner.

 

The race then takes a tight left turn at Trafalgar Square, with riders racing under Admiralty Arch to line-up for the final 500m finishing sprint along The Mall, this time heading towards Buckingham Palace and the finish line.

 

The direct route back into London, used by the 2012 Olympic road race, via Leatherhead, Oxshott and Esher, will see the distance from the final climb to the finish shortened bringing into play a greater tactical element, as the sprinters’ teams battle to bring back any breakaway moves made in the hills.

 

 

 

The favourites

As it was the case for the Olympic road race, RideLondon Classic has been dubbed as a sprint race but the sprinters have always had a hard time in the event. The two latest editions have both been decided by small groups and it proves that attackers have a chance to make a difference if they can form a small group with representation of all the key teams. In 2012, the British team failed to bring things back together and in the last two years the sprint teams have done so in this race too.

 

This year the course is slightly different but overall the layout of the race is pretty similar. On paper, a distance of more than 50km from the top of the final climb should be enough to bring it back together for a bunch sprint but in the past the small 6-rider teams have made things less organized. This year we should have more of the same, with a lot of aggression and attacks in the hilly zone leading to a frenetic chase in the flat run back to London.

 

This year the riders will be greeted by summerlike conditions with very little wind and this should make the race slightly less selective. On the other hand, it will mainly be a tailwind on the run back to London and this should favour the attackers. However, the outcome will depend more on the approach of the teams than anything else.

 

This year the race is a very open affair and it doesn’t seem that any team goes into the race with a sole eye on a bunch sprint. André Greipel has pulled out and so Lotto Soudal have changed their plans. Many other teams slso want to ride aggressively. Sky have Van Poppel and Swift for a sprint but especially the latter benefits from a hard race and has been in the key groups in the last two years. Orica-BikeExchange have Michael Matthews who also needs a hard race to excel and the same goes for Etixx-QuickStep with Tom Boonen and Matteo Trentin. Last year’s winner Jempy Drucker won’t win a bunch sprint either so both he and BMC want a tough race.

 

In general, there is a big chance that a strong group with riders from BMC, Sky, Etixx-QuickStep and Orica-BikeExchange will ride away in the hilly zone and it they can work together, we doubt that the remaining teams can bring them back. Of course there will always be alliances– especially Cannondale is a likely candidate to chase hard as they have Wouter Wippert for a sprint – but it won’t be easy to be successful. As it has been the case in the last few editions, we think that a small group will decide the race.

 

If a small group rides away, the winner will probably be a strong sprinter or a classics rider who can make it into the break and then come out on top in what will be a tactical finale. It will be important to be part of a team that has strength in numbers after the climbs and a fast finish is a crucial asset. After all the solo moves have all failed in the latest editions and the races have been decided in sprints between a handful of riders.

 

Etixx-QuickStep have two very fast riders who can handle this kind of terrain. Tom Boonen and Matteo Trentin both excel on short climbs and have proved to be in great condition at the Tour de Wallonie where they both won a stage. They won’t wait for a sprint finish as they know that it will be hard to beat Greipel so they will probably try to ride aggressively in the hilly zone. Both of them are strong enough to be there if a small group rides away and if that’s the case, they will have great tactical cards. Both can follow moves, knowing that they will have a great chance to win a sprint, and they will both be eager to work to keep the group at bay.

 

That offers Etixx-QuickStep great tactical options and both Boonen and Trentin can win the race. Boonen is probably the fastest and will be the preferred card if it comes to a sprint where he can rely on Trentin for the lead-out. However, the Italian is the better climber and may have a more aggressive approach than his Belgian teammate. There is a bigger chance that Trentin will be part of the attacks while Boonen may ride a bit more defensively. However, we expect both to play a significant role and as we expect a small group to sprint for the win, we will put our money on Tom Boonen to win the race. The Belgian has his best chance in a hard race but he is also a candidate if it comes down to a bunch sprint where he can rely on one of the best lead-out men in the business, having Trentin at his side.

 

Trentin’s best chance comes in a hard race and he will get his chance to sprint if Boonen has been left behind. He may not be as fast as the likes of Boonen and Wippert but he is not far off their mark. He can beat riders like Michael Matthews and Ben Swift and stands out as a great second card for Etixx-QuickStep.

 

Sky have a fantastic team for this race and they will probably try to make it as hard as possible. In the last two years, Ben Swift has been in the right moves in the end but the Brit hasn’t raced since Romandie so his form is uncertain. Instead, Danny Van Poppel stands out as their best card. The Dutchman can both wait for a sprint and go on the attack as he is stronger than most sprinters in this kind of terrain. With such a strong team at his side, he will probably have an aggressive approach and if he can get into the right group with a number of his strong Sky teammates, he won’t be easy to beat. He is much faster than most think and can beat everyone here. It could cost him dearly if he focuses too much on a sprint finish as he is strong enough to ride aggressively and if he does so, it is hard to imagine than anyone will manage to beat him.

 

Michael Matthews is another obvious candidate. Knowing that he is not fast enough to win a real sprint, he will have an aggressive approach and there is no doubt that he will be up there when the attacks take place. He was climbing excellently at the Tour, even better than his team had expected, and after a slow start, he also found his sprinting legs. He even claimed that he produced better numbers than usual. With a fifth place in Paris, he was riding very well until the end and this kind of hard race is one that suits him. Unfortunately, his team is not very strong and he could very well be isolated in a small group in the end. If he is up against several riders from Sky or Etixx-QuickStep, it won’t be easy to handle the situation tactically so he will hope that Damien Howson can join him in the attacks. In any case, there is a solid chance that he is one of the fastest if a group goes clear and that naturally makes him one of the favourites.

 

Wouter Wippert is one of the fastest riders here, maybe even the fastest in a real bunch sprint. However, the Dutchman is a pure sprinter and he won’t be strong enough to go with the attacks on the climbs. He will be ready to strike if it comes back together and he is fast enough to win. His big problem is usually positioning but in what is likely to be a smaller field, he will have a better chance.

 

Jempy Drucker is the defending champion and he would love to defend the title. He is fast but he has no chance in a big bunch sprint. BMC want to animate the race and have Drucker in a small group in the end. They have a great team to make things hard and Drucker has been riding really well in June. If he has maintained that condition, he should be in the attacks and even though there is a big risk that he will be up against faster riders, another win can’t be ruled out.

 

Lotto Soudal have three fast finishers but only one of them is at 100%. Jens Debusschere crashed out of the Tour and even though he claims to be in good condition, he will probably have to focus on a bunch sprint. On paper, he is one of the fastest here, especially with such a strong lead-out, but he may not be in the condition to win. Instead, Kris Boeckmans is likely to get his chance in a sprint finish. He showed clear signs of improvement in Wallonie but we doubt that he is ready to win this kind of high-level sprint. Finally, there’s Jurgen Roelandts who is the likely candidate to follow the attacks. He is fast but unfortunately there is a big chance that he will be up against faster riders.

 

The British national team have two fast riders: Adam Blythe and Dan McLay. Blythe won the race two years ago by riding aggressively and with his great showing at Nationals, he will probably have a similar approach here. He hasn’t raced for a while though and he needs to be at his very best to be up there on the climbs with the classics riders. McLay has just finished the Tour and will probably be the back-up plan for the sprint. He is definitely fast enough to win but he needs to get his positioning right which won’t be easy in a team with three inexperienced riders.

 

Ben Swift is a perennial contender in this race which suits him well. He is an excellent climber and fast in a sprint from a small group. However, he hasn’t raced for almost three months and it is doubtful whether he has the speed and form to win the race. He may have to work for Van Poppel who is the faster of the pair but if the Dutchman fails to make it into a small group in the end, Swift will take his chance. Unfortunately, he is likely to be up against faster riders.

 

Finally, we will point to Daniel Oss. The Italian is brutally strong in this terrain and is a likely candidate to join forces with a number of BMC riders in the finale. Drucker, Oss, Floris Gerts, Loic Vliegen, Marcus Burghardt and Danilo Wyss are all strong enough to be there at the end of an aggressive race. While Drucker will focus on a sprint from a small group, Oss will go on the attack and he is strong enough to win solo or come out on top in a sprint from a handful of riders.

 

***** Tom Boonen

**** Matteo Trentin, Danny Van Poppel

*** Michael Matthews, Kenny Dehaes, Wouter Wippert, Jempy Drucker, Sonny Colbrelli

** Jens Debusschere, Jurgen Roelandts, Adam Blythe, Daniel McLay, Ben Swift, Daniel Oss

* Kris Boeckmans, Steele Von Hoff, Mark Renshaw, Pawel Franczak, Maciej Paterski, Stephen Cummings, Geraint Thomas, Patrick Bevin, Zandro Meurisse, Ian Stannard, Danilo Wyss, Floris Gerts

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