Sunday saw the second edition of the RideLondon Classic, the capital’s Olympic legacy road race which traces the route of 2012’s original course through the Surrey countryside before finishing upon The Mall once more. With a race still so new to the calendar it was always going to be difficult to calculate who would win or even whether or not we would see a solo, breakaway or bunch finish by the end of the day.
By lunchtime most of the RideLondon course had experienced a summertime downpour of torrential proportions, flooding roads and shifting all manner of debris onto the course. Bearing these conditions in mind, pre-race favourites such as Team Sky’s Ben Swift and BMC’s ex-World Champion Philipe Gilbert seemed even more likely to be key protagonists as the race approached its vital moments.
The obligatory early skirmishes, so familiar to the British domestic scene, had encouraged former British Champion Kristian House to try his luck at making it into a major breakaway – but no luck. During the peloton’s passage through Richmond Park around the 13km mark, six riders finally formed the escapees and would dangle off the front of the chasing group for most of the day, with the lead being allowed to grow upwards of three minutes at points. The sole representative of the UK scene to make the breakaway was Velosure Giordana’s Steve Lampier, who soon made his intentions to take the day’s King of The Mountains title clear. Despite a a few challenges by his companions, Lampier put in a consistent performance to earn himself a podium place on The Mall.
The chasing peloton let the breakaway have their day contesting the KOM and Sprint competitions before Team Sky applied Ian Stannard and Bradley Wiggins to the front with devastating effect. Reeling in the six man breakaway with the ease of a nine man Grand Tour team, rather than the six man limit the race’s teams found themselves having to cope with. Despite all riders coming back together in the peloton, things began to deteriorate rapidly once again as an 11 man breakaway got free. This contained some of the day’s marked men; Ben Swift, Philipe Gilbert, Sam Bennett and Scott Thwaites, as well as interesting outsiders such as Orica-GreenEDGE prospect Caleb Ewan and an OPQS duo of Steegmans and Alaphilippe.
The large group struggled to keep an organised pace-line functioning throughout its early freedom, something which contributed to Philipe Gilbert’s subsequent attack through Wimbledon – scything the frontrunners down to six. No sooner had this smaller unit formed when the BMC man attacked again, finding himself breaking free of the rest with Frenchman Alaphilippe, the OPQS making his commitment to the attack very clear to Gilbert. For a while this appeared to be a decisive move, Ben Swift looked reluctant to expend too much energy closing the gap with Adam Blythe of NFTO as Cannondale’s Koren took the smallest of turns. Regardless of the initial confusion, the three man chasing group eventually co-ordinated their catch neatly as the five breakaway riders came together once more into Putney.
Cat and mouse games soon ensued as the break passed through Admiralty Arch and onto The Mall to contest the winning sprint for 2014’s RideLondon Classic. Koran was poorly placed at the front, immediately spoiling his chances of a shock win, but while Gilbert and Alaphilippe worried about Swift, Swift worried about Blythe; who was sitting last wheel by now. The two Yorkshiremen have spent years racing against one another and Ben Swift was all too aware of how quick his fellow man can be – yet he still was not ready. Jinking out from behind Swift, Adam Blythe unleashed a turn of pace usually seen on the track rather than after 200km of racing, opening a huge gap and cutting back onto the barriers once ahead of the group. It only took a moment to realise nobody was going to deny Blythe this major win since stepping down from the WorldTour, with Swift holding onto second and Alaphilippe taking third. Not only a huge result for the man from Sheffield, but also a great statement for the strength of the British domestic racing scene.