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After a fantastic solo ride from Thomas and a hard chase from Etixx-QuickStep, Boonen beat Renshaw and Matthews in a reduced bunch sprint at RideLondon Classic

Photo: Etixx-QuickStep / Tim De Waele

DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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MARK RENSHAW

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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RIDE LONDON CLASSIC

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31.07.2016 @ 19:41 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) continued his great start to the second half of the season by riding to a dominant win in the biggest British one-day race, RideLondon Classic. After a great solo ride by Geraint Thomas (Sky) was neutralized by Orica-BikeExchange and Boonen’s Etixx-QuickStep teammates, the Belgian freelanced in the sprint and was lucky to find the gap that allowed him to power past Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) and Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchanage) who had to settle for the minor spots on the podium.

 

During the classics season, Etixx-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere did nothing to hide that he preferred his star rider Tom Boonen to retire at the end of the spring campaign. However, after his second place in Paris-Roubaix, the Belgian was keen to give it another shot but it wasn’t easy for him to find a spot in the team that has been his home for almost his entire career.

 

In the final week of the Tour, the parties finally agreed on a contract that will see Boonen end his career on the Roubaix velodrome next April. Less than two weeks later Lefevere has no reason to regret his decision as Boonen has been flying ever since the contract was signed.

 

One day later Boonen already took his first win at the Tour de Wallonie and he was close to another victory one day later when he finished second in a crash-marred sprint. After having worked for Gianni Meersman in the final part of the race, he continued his run of success by winning today’s RideLondon Classic in impressive fashion.

 

However, it took a massive effort from his teammates to give the Belgian star a chance to sprint. A strong solo move from Geraint Thomas (Sky) saw the Welshman enter the final 30km with an advantage of more than 3 minutes over a depleted peloton. Orica-BikeExchange and Etixx-QuickStep had to use everything they had left to bring the Sky star back inside the final five kilometres. That left Boonen without a lead-out but he still had enough left to come out on top in the reduced bunch sprint where he was in a class of his own.

 

The fourth edition of the RideLondon Classic was held on a 202.3km course in the area around London. After a flat start in the city, the peloton headed into the hills of the Surrey County where they first tackled Leith Hill after 76.4km of racing. Then they tackled three laps of a 19.1km circuit that included the Ranmore Common climb before they headed to the famous Box Hill. That was the final climb on the course and from there 51.8 relatively flat kilometres remained. It all finished in spectacular fashion on the Mall in Central London.

 

It was a nice day in London when the star-studded field gathered for the start and as it is always the case in the big British race, it was a furiously fast opening phase. Lots of attacks were launched, with Sebastian Langeveld, Jack Bauer (Cannondale) and Mathew Hayman (Orica-BikeExchange) among the many riders to be involved. In the midst of the chaos, a crash split the field but no one sustained any major injuries.

 

It took 35km of aggression before Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal), Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural), Jonas Rickaert (Topsport Vlaanderen) and defending champion Jempyr Drucker (BMC) managed to escape. They were quickly joined by Matthew Holmes (Madison Genesis) and Dexter Gardias (Pedal Heaven) and as the peloton took a breather, the sextet was allowed to build an advantage of 3.40.

 

Christian Knees (Sky) and Hamish Shreurs (Etixx-QuickStep) started to chase and kept the gap stable for a long time. Unfortunately, an incident in the cyclosportive event forced the race to be neutralized for a little while before it was resumed with the five-rider group holding an advantage of 3.40.

 

Gardias won the first KOM sprint on Leith Hill and Lastra beat Rickaert and Gardias in the first intermediate sprint while Knees and Shreurs maintained their speed. When a few Rwanda riders hit the deck with 110km to go, the gap was still 3.10.

 

At the first passage of Ranmore Common, Holmes beat Gardias and Lastra in the sprint while Knees led the peloton to the top 2.50 later. When Rickaert beat Lastra and Gardias in the second intermediate sprint with around 100km to go, the escapees still had an advantage of 2.40.

 

NFTO made a big acceleration to bring the gap down to 2.15 at the bottom of the climb but then they again left it to Knees and Shreurs to set the pace. However, the faster pace forced the escapees to react and as they went up the ascent, first Rickaert and later Gardias fell behind. It was Holmes who did the damage in the front group and he won the KOM sprint ahead of Lastra, Drucker and Wallays.

 

Further back, the action heated up as Thomas made his first big attack. The Welshman eached the top with a small gap to a group that was made up of one of his teammates, two from BMC, one Wanty ider and an Etixx-QuickStep representative. Thomas was just 1.25 behind the front group.

 

While Thomas passed Rickaert and caught Gardias, a 17-rider group formed behind the Sky rider and from this group, his teammate Ian Stannard and Patrick Bevin (Cannondale) attacked. They joined Thomas and Gardias as they entered the final 80km 1.10 behind the front quartet.

 

Lastra beat Wallays and Holmes in the intermediate sprint with 76km to go before the chase quartet crossed the line one minute later. Further back, a 30-rider group had gathered while the peloton led by Knees had almost come to a standstill and was almost three minutes behind.

 

The four chasers were just 45 seconds behind when they hit Ranmore Common. Unsurprisingly, Gardias fell off immediately and Thomas, Stannard and Bevin had almost made the junction when Holmes beat Wallays and Drucker in the KOM sprint.

 

The two groups merged with 65km to go and they septet immediately started to cooperate to push their gap over the 30-rider group out to more than 3 minutes. That group wasn’t working together at all and there were constant attacks. Xandro Meurisse (Wanty) and Lorenzo Rota (Bardiani) briefly formed a chase duo but they were soon brought back.

 

Lastra beat Wallays and Stannard in the next intermediate sprint where the trio briefly escaped but the group soon came back together. There was still no cooperation in the chase group where Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) tried to escape but Chris Froome (Sky) did a great job to disrupt the chase. In the peloton, things were now slightly more organized as Orica-BikeExchange had started to chase.

 

The front septet hit Box Hill with a solid advantage of more than 3 minutes and Stannard went hard right from the bottom. Lastra was clearly suffering. Nonetheless, the group stayed together for most of the climb until Thomas accelerated near the top. Without really attacking, he dropped Lastra and Holmes. Furtheer back, Tosport Vlaanderen had taken over the pace-setting in the chase group that had become slightly more organized.

 

Thomas was brutally strong and no one could keep his wheel. He reached the top with a small advantage over the chasers who were led by Bevin and Wallays. Holmes made it back to make it a chase quintet just as they crossed the line.

 

Close to the top, new attacks came from the chase group where Meurisse was again active until Froome tested his condition with an acceleration near the top. He was closely marked by the likes of Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Langeveld and so he got nowhere. He tried again but his second attempt also failed to make a difference.

 

Meanwhile, Thomas had gone into TT mode and he hit the final 50km with a solid advantage over his chasers and he didn’t look back. Hence, he could steadily extend his gap as he headed back towards London.

 

In the big chase group, the attacking continued as Trentin and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) both found themselves in a small group that escaped. They didn’t have much luck and instead Marcus Burghardt (BMC) made a failed attack.

 

Meurisse was the next to try and unlike his previous attempts, this one seemed to work. The Belgian took off in a solo move as he started what looked like an impossible mission to try to get back to Thomas.

 

With 40km to go, Thomas was 35 seconds ahead of his nearest chasers and 3.35 ahead of Meurisse who was soon brought back. Instead, Daniel Oss, Loic Vliegen (BMC), two Bardiani riders and one from Caja Rural got clear. They worked hard to maintain an advantage but it wasn’t easy as Etixx-QuickStep, ONE and Orica-BikeExchange were trying to organize a chase in the peloton which had caught the big chase group. Hence, the group was soon caught.

 

Entering the final 35km, Thomas had pushed his advantage out to 50 seconds and he was leading the peloton by 3.30. Svein Tuft, Mitch Docker, Damien Howson Sam Bewley (Orica-BikeExchange), Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep) and Karol Domagalski (ONE) were working well together and it was clear that we were in for a great pursuit in the final part of the race.

 

Thomas was finally started to fade as he hit the final 30km and with 23km to go, he was only 2.25 ahead of the peloton. He still had a 55-second advantage over the chasers but he was longer gaining any ground.

 

Etixx-QuickStep hit the panic button as they decided to sacrifice lead-out man Trentin in the chase. That had a big effect and the gap dropped to less than two minutes with 19km to go.

 

The chase was taking its toll when they hit a small climb where only Trentin, Vandenbergh, Docker and Howson were left to do the work. Bardiani came to the fore to lend a hand but the peloton failed to take back any time as they went up the ascent.

 

The peloton got back up to speed when they returned to flat roads and when he won the final sprint with 15km to go, Thomas was only 1.40 ahead of the bunch. He still had one minute on the chasers but faced a tough challenge when he hit a small hill in Wimbledon.

 

Wallays accelerated to take second in the sprint and then Stannard who had been following wheels, made his move. The Brit tried to bridge across to his teammate to add more firepower.

 

The climb took its toll on the peloton too and as splits started to appear, Huub Duijn (Roompot) tried to bridge the gap of 1.20. A CCC rider also tried to get clear but Bardiani and Etixx-QuickStep managed to bring him back. Edmund Bradbury (NFTO) also gave it a go but he had little luck.

 

Duijn was also brought back as the chase again got organized, with Docker, Trentin, Vandenbergh and Enrico Barbin (Bardiani) working hard on the front. As they entered the final 10km, thy were just one minute behind Thomas who had 30 seconds on the peloton and 50 seconds on Wallays who had left the rest of his group behind.

 

Wallays was brought back by Drucker, Holmes and Bevin but it was all over for that quartet with 8km to go and with Wallays back in the fold, Lotto Soudal also started to chase. Lars Bak took a huge turn for the Belgian team and he brought Stannard back. His big job paid off as Thomas was caught with less than 5km to go.

 

When Bak swung off, the peloton suddenly slowed down and Froome did a great job to disrupt the chase. Sensing that the chase was losing momentum, Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani) attacked and he got an immediate gap.

 

It took some time for the peloton to get organized again and it was Bak who hit the front again. With a big turn, he brought Colbrelli back and so it all came down I a bunch sorint.

 

Mathew Hayman took control for Orica-BikeExchange, keeping Michael Matthews in a good position. He dropped his sprinter off on the wheel of Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) who did the lead-out for Jens Debusschere who was sitting in fourth on the wheel of Mark Renshaw.

 

When Roelandts swung off, Renshaw started his sprint and he had already passed the Matthews when the Orica-BikeExchange could react. However, Boonen suddenly came flying from far back and he had luck to find a gap on the right-hand side of the road. With an impressive burst of speed, he easily beat his rivals before Renshaw narrowly held Matthews and Debusschere off in the battle for second.

 

Lastra won the sprints competition and Drucker took victory in the mountains classification.

 

With the RideLondo Classic done and dusted, there’ s a big break on the UCI scene in Great Britain. The next major event is the Tour of Britain which takes place in the second week of September.

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