Sharon Laws previews the Prudential RideLondon Classique

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I knew the 2014 inaugural edition of the Prudential RideLondon Classique was going to hurt. I hadn’t raced on the road since the Women’s Tour of California two months earlier.

Instead I had competed in a five day mountain bike race in Austria, a three day one in Spain and a four day one in France. With an average speed of 14kph it was going to be a struggle to adapt back to road racing. I stayed in the peloton until about 1km from the finish, as the sprint trains ramped up the speed I popped. Kirstin Wild (Hitech Products) took the honours and the whopping 25,000 euro prize. She had skipped La Course and some other road races in her preparation for the track events at the Rio Olympics, but this was obviously a reward worth competing for. The average speed for the 63km race was a speedy 42.8kph and took 1hr 28 minutes.

It is never nice simply hanging on in a race but I had to be realistic with my preparation and cognizant that, even in good form, circuit races weren’t really my thing. I was more relieved just to finish. The atmosphere had, however, been incredible. Crowds lined the street and racing on the very roads, on which I’d commuted to work for the British Government over 15 years previously, was slightly surreal. Hearing my name being shouted as I hurtled down the Mall was an amazing feeling. I questioned my sanity the following day as I lined up, on four hours sleep – after a 4.30am wake up – to take part in the Prudential RideLondon Surrey 100 event. 160km on very tired legs; which I completed in 4hr 20 with an average speed of 36.8kph. Ouch! Once again, however, it was pretty special taking part with 25,000 riders and complete road closures on a route on which I used to train. Completely shattered I rode, with a loaded backpack, another 45 minutes to catch the bus to Oxford on route to visit my Mum. Definitely a weekend I won’t forget!

The race

The Prudential RideLondon is an annual three day festival of cycling, which includes the Prudential RideLondon Classique UCI Women’s WorldTour race, was developed as a legacy of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. The fifth edition takes place over the weekend of 28-30 July 2017.

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The Women’s race starts and finishes on the Mall on the 29th July. Starting at 5pm the riders will race 12 laps of the spectacular 5.5km circuit in central London. The circuit begins on The Mall in St James’s Park, goes up Constitution Hill, turning at the top to come down onto Birdcage Walk, then passes Big Ben and turns left onto Whitehall and right onto the Strand before turning again
to come back up the Strand, through Trafalgar Square, Admiralty Arch and back onto The Mall.  Racing past Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade and through Trafalgar Square is such an incredible, unique opportunity and as a result is a very popular event for the Women’s peloton. The race is expected to finish around 6.45pm.

Course Map 

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Check out the excellent website for more detailed information of the course.

In 2016, the Prudential RideLondon Classique was given UCI WorldTour status and replaced the Prudential RideLondon Grand Prix, which was held from 2013-2015. This was a 50 minute criterium held on a 2km circuit. The event attracted some of the biggest names in Women’s cycling due to the significant prize money, appearance fees and a private flight to Germany in time for the Sparkassen Giro World Cup. It was the first women’s race in the UK, outside the Olympic or Commonwealth Games, to be broadcast live.

Having a World Tour race in central London is simply massive for women’s cycling. As Guy Elliot (who is involved in both this event and the OVO Women’s Tour) explained: “London is so important to give women’s racing the oxygen of publicity it needs and deserves – women’s cycling can be brilliant – it does not have to copy the men to be successful. In fact it can be better if it creates its own unique identity. You have to take the races to the public whereas, with men, the crowds are more inclined to come anyway. In the U.K. we are not blinkered by the history of cycling, which is very macho. Our lack of blinkers means we can look at it with fresh eyes, creativity and a “can do” attitude reflecting a more enlightened society.”

This is what the Prudential RideLondon Classique is all about.

Previous Editions 

Last year’s inaugural Prudential RideLondon Classique was won by Dutch sprinter Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products), Nina Kessler (Lensworld Zannata) was second and Leah Kirchmann (Team Liv-Plantur) third. The numerous breakaways were short lived and the finish came down to a predictable bunch sprint.

The previous three criterium editions were also hotly contested. Barbara Guarishi (Velocio Sram) won the 2015 edition ahead of Shelly Old and Anna Cucinotta for Alé Cipollini. In 2014 Georgia Brozini (WiggleHigh5), two times World Champion, took the honours ahead of Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) and Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans). The inaugural Ride London GP was won by multiple Olympic champion Laura Trott (Wiggle Honda). Hannah Barnes (MG-Maxifuel) and Loren Rowney (Specialized-Lululemon) completed the podium.

Earlier this year the women’s peloton tackled 14 laps of a clover-leaf 6.2km circuit on similar roads in London in the final stage of the Women’s Tour. This proved to be one of the most exciting stages due to small time gaps between 2nd – 6th place. With bonus seconds up for grabs on two sprint points and the finish, it was an aggressive race from start to finish. Winning two sprints points and finishing 2nd in the stage Hannah Barnes (Canyon SRAM) moved from 5th into 3rd place in the overall General Classification. Jolien D’Hoore (Wiggle High5) won the stage and Christine Majerus (Boels Dolmans) was third.

Prize Money 

For the second successive year, the prize money for the Prudential RideLondon Classique is the highest ever offered anywhere in the world for a women’s one-day race and matches the prize money offered at the world’s richest one-day men’s race the next day – the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic. The total prize pool for the race is 100,000 Euros.

The individual winner of the Prudential RideLondon Classique wins 25,000 Euros. When you consider Anna van der Breggan (Boels Dolmans) only received 1,130 euros for winning the entire Giro Rosa, the only Women’s Grand Tour, this is obviously a big deal!

The winning team is awarded 10,000 Euros. There will be three Continental Tyres Sprints in the race at the end of laps three, six and nine. The first four riders will get points for each of the three sprints. The rider with the most points from the three sprints wins the overall Continental Tyres Sprints competition and 3000 euro. The winner of each sprint receives 1000 euro.

Breakdown of the prize money 

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What to expect 

Expect to see a very aggressive, high pace race from the gun. With significant prize money for the 3 intermediate sprints these will be hotly contested. I’m expecting a number of breakaways to form during the race but for it to finish in a bunch sprint.

The Teams

18 of the current top 20 teams in the Women’s World Tour rankings, including all top 10 will be racing. The start list is stacked with the best sprinters and support riders in the world. A Great Britain national team will also race giving British riders from smaller teams, not eligible to race, the opportunity to compete. This includes recently crowned National Time Trial Champion, Claire Rose, who currently races for Visit Dallas DNA Procycling, a USA based team.

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Who to watch? 

Defending champion Kirsten Wild returns to try to replicate her 2016 victory for her new team Cylance Pro Cycling. She will have a strong lead out with Giro Rosa stage winner Sheyla Gutierrez, Italian sprinter Marta Tagliaferro and British Olympic track medallist Danni King.

British team Wiggle High5 will compete with a super strong team led by Stage 6 OVO Energy Women’s Tour of Britain winner Jolien D’Hoore. Her strong lead out train consists of two-time world champion Giorgia Bronzini, 3rd and 4th place finishers at the BeNe Ladies Tour Nettie Edmonson and Emilia Fahlin, Denmark’s Julie Leth and British rider, Grace Garner.

Team Sunweb have their hopes set on the big win with ace sprinter Coryn Rivera, who has won 2 World Tour events (Ronde van Vlaanderen & Trofeo Alfredo Binda) and a stage at the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Race empowered with SRAM. She will have the support of Giro Rosa stage winner Lucinda Brand, Internationale LOTTO Thüringen Ladies Tour podium finisher and lead out specialist Ellen van Dijk and last years 3rd place finisher Leah Kirchmann.

Hannah Barnes (Canyon SRAM) will want to impress her home crowds and continue her incredible season, most recently winning a stage of the Giro Rosa and finishing 3rd GC at the OVO Energy Women’s Tour of Britain. She will have a strong team around her including Lisa Brennauer, winner of the Internationale LOTTO Thüringen Ladies Tour and previous winner of the RideLondon Grand Prix Barbara Guarischi.

Chloe Hosking (Alé  Cipollini) will want to continue her run of podium places this season, which includes a stage win at the OVO Energy Women’s Tour of Britain and 2nd place on stage 4 of the Giro Rosa. Her strong ‘fluro clad’ squad includes previous world champion Marta Bastianelli.

Boels Dolmans are likely to be aggressive throughout the race and have various options with the Dutch national champion Chantal Blaak, 2nd GC OVO Energy Women’s Tour of Britain finisher Christine Majerus and stage winner Amy Pieters.

In addition, Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla) has proved herself a big contender in the fast hectic sprints with a number of podium places this year. Following her return to racing after a broken collar bone and recent win at the BeNe Ladies Tour, expect to see Marianne Vos also making her mark. British rider Alice Barnes, who finished 2nd at the BeNe Ladies Tour, will want to continue her break through season for Drops Cycling as will Katie Archibald (WNT Procycling), newly crowned British criterium champion.

Other riders to look out for include Grace Elvin (Orica-Scott), Roxane Fourneir (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope), Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal Ladies) and Emilie Moberg (Hitech Products).

How to follow?

Twitter: @RideLondonWT, #RideLondon. @Voxwomen will be live tweeting the race too.

The UCI Women’s World Tour YouTube channel will also have highlights.

The Prudential RideLondon Classique will be televised live on 29th July:

BBC Two at 6pm.

Eurosport 1: 6.55pm (GMT)

What do the riders think? 

Last years winner Kirsten Wild (Cylance Procycing) said: “It will be a hard race to control, because of the high level and the big teams who are racing. We need some cooperation between the teams with the same interests. I think it will be very exciting to watch but also to race. Racing in London is super cool – in the UK anyway. So many enthusiastic people! And this course feels epic on the Mall.”

One of the favourites, Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) is looking forward to the event: “I have never raced it before but I think it’s a race that suits me and the team will be looking to get a victory on the day. A mix between a criterium and a kermesse with the largest amount of prize money I’ve ever raced for. I’m really excited to be racing a race that appreciates equal opportunity and equal prize money. Racing in the UK is growing and the fans support it. It makes for a really fun, positive racing environment. Plus people speak English!”

Finish National Champion and sprinter Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla) said: “I am looking forward for the race. I hope I can do well and it’s a good preparation for the Europeans. It’s amazing how the race is held in the middle of London; it’s a special feeling. There are so many crowds who are cheering for us.”

The crowd will be behind Hannah Barnes (Canyon SRAM) in her home race: ‘It’s been a sprint finish the previous years and it’s most probably going to come down to bunch sprint this year too. It’s always aggressive though. It’s almost the same course as the last day of OVO Women’s Tour, which was very aggressive and riders and teams will always want to get up the road and be represented in the break. I’m really looking forward to it. I have so many friends and family that can come and watch which makes it so special.”

Sister of Hannah, Alice Barnes (Drops Cycling Team) will also enjoy the home support and said: “I am really looking forward to Prudential Ride London. It is always a great race and brings out huge crowds. With it being World tour again it makes it a super tough race. With wide roads and long and straight it always finishes in a sprint. My sprint has improved a lot this year so I am hoping to improve on my last year’s result.”

Gracie Elvin (Orica Scott) explained her thoughts for the event: “Our team is certainly coming off the highs of success at La Course and the Giro, so we are hoping to have a strong showing at Ride London but will keep our expectations realistic with our riders managing form coming off these big events and others building for the next ones. For myself, this is my first time racing RideLondon so I am really excited to take part. I’ve done all editions of The Women’s Tour and am always amazed at the crowds that come to watch, so I am looking forward to coming back to Britain to race along some famous roads in the capital. I predict a bunch sprint for this type of race, but with it being a transitional race in the season anything can happen!”

National criterium champion Katie Archibald (WNT Procycling) is: “expecting the race to be just like stage 5 of the women’s tour, which was pretty savage. The technical elements mean it can be really easy for some riders and made really hard for others – I just worry I’m an other. Favourite thing about racing in the UK is hearing your name shouted from the crowd all the time, it feels like a big deal.”

Claire Rose (Great Britain National Team), said: “It’s a tough super fast race, on a technical circuit, but I’m expecting it to come down to a bunch sprint again like last year. I love the crowds racing in the UK, you get so much support out in the road, and there’s nothing quite like racing at home.”

Young British rider Grace Garner (Wiggle High5) explained that: “Prudential is a special race for me because it was the first race where I experienced racing against the worlds best bike riders when I was a junior. The memory of sprinting against Marianne Vos and Giorgia Bronzini as a 17 year old will always stay with me! I expect it’s going to be as special as always, the crowds are always about 5 deep and the atmosphere always makes you feel like you are part of something huge. Racing in the UK always makes a difference because normally I will have friends or family spectating and that gives you a home advantage! Hopefully we can get a result as we have a great team going, there are some great sprint teams there so I’m sure it will be an exciting race!”

Hannah Barne’s right hand woman Alexis Ryan (Canyon SRAM) spoke of her experience last year and said: “I’m expecting this edition to be aggressive. The sprint classification is always hotly contested, and the finish carries even more weight with the amount of prize money. Every team will bring a hit squad, so the show will be full of fireworks. The U.K. puts on the best bike races, by far. The organization is professional, the courses are challenging, the prize money is substantial, and the fans are enthusiastic.”

Returning to racing from a broken scapula Jessica Allen (Orica Scott) is looking forward to the event: “We are super keen to come back and race Ride London again this year. The team has come off a really strong month of racing with the Giro and La Course so everyone is really motivated for a hard race. We will be opportunistic throughout the race and we also have Gracie Elvin and Sarah Roy as our fast finishers. The atmosphere at Ride London last year was as big as La Course in Paris so I can’t wait to get back there and race in front of the British fans again.”

Marianne Vos’s teammate Lauren Kitchen (WM3 Procycing) is predicting: “A big exciting race racing in London with my team. I expect a very fast and hard race with limited breakaway opportunities and a fast hard sprint. We are hoping to deliver Marianne to the top step.”

American rider Kendall Ryan (Team Tibco Silicon Valley Bank) explained: “Last year was the first time in the U.K, for me. I remember going into a coffee shop and spoke to an older couple and they were so excited to watch us race. All the positive energy from them gave me fuel. The race was so much bigger than I had ever experienced, the course lined with cycling fans, and how organized it was. We were in the heart of London and they shut it down for us. That’s what I liked most about it. Personally, I would like to sprint with the world’s best and see where I end up. I have a full season in my legs and my sprints leading up to this race have given me a lot of confidence. But most importantly my teammates have shown their confidence in me for the sprint. So if the race comes down to that I’m prepared. I think we have a really strong and coordinated team and we will try our best to be represented, however the race unfolds.”

WOMEN’S WORLD TOUR

The Women’s World Tour top three will remain unchanged after this event because Anna van der Breggen (837 points), Annemiek van Vleuten (778 points) and Kasia Niewiadoma (758 points) are not racing. Coryn Rivera is the highest placed rider racing (with 600 points) – any placing above 8th could move her into 4th place ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini (635 points).

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, leader in the Under 23 classification, is also not racing but will not be challenged as she leads Alice Barnes by 28 points and there are only six points up for grabs.