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In front of Buckingham Palace, British rider Adam Blythe (NFTO) won the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic on Sunday.
Blythe was part of a five-man group of leaders that formed with around 20 kilometers left in the 192km race that started and ended in London.
He launched his final sprint with around 200 meters left, slingshotting to the front of the group as he surged past the others. Ben Swift (Sky) and Julian Alaphilippe (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took second and third. Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), whose attack with 20.5km remaining led to the formation of the winning selection, finished fourth.
“I knew it would be a tough sprint with Swifty there,” Blythe said on a TV interview afterward, his face and kit caked with mud after racing in rainy, windy conditions that dirtied the riders and their bikes. “But I knew if I got the jump it would be close. I got out early and held on. I’m just over the moon with how it went.”
Blythe won a battle of the Brits to win in central London, beating his old friend and sparring partner Swift in a dramatic sprint finish on The Mall.
Swift was one the race favorites and appeared to be in a perfect position to show his famed finishing speed after five Sky teammates, including 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, had worked hard in the middle part of the race to get him into a breakaway group.
“It would have been nice to have won, but I am really happy with second,” said Swift. “I’ve known Adam since I was seven years old and we’ve got a lot of history, so I knew he was the one to watch. I knew I needed to keep an eye on him and I could see he was looking for me on the run-in. I tried to react to his move but he’s a really fast sprinter and once he got the jump on me he was away.”
Gilbert was impressed with Blythe’s finishing effort.
“In the sprint, Blythe surprised us,” Gilbert said in a TV interview. “He came from behind us very fast. That was a nice win.”
The first half of the race was plagued by rain and wind, which washed mud all over the narrow roads. At times the race looked like more of a mountain bike event, with the riders having to dodge puddles and slick mud.
The race, which began in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, snaked through the Surrey countryside. A few sections of the course had such a low canopy of trees that the branches were nearly touching the riders’ helmets.
The first significant break came in Richmond Park after 13km when six riders got away and established a gap of just over a minute, an advantage they held through the early stretches out into Surrey’s narrow country roads, many of them still smeared with rain wash.
The conditions improved in the final third of the race, and the main pack was split with 63km left. Bradley Wiggins (Sky), a pre-race favorite, did not make the split and was left in the second group. Sky then took command of the Wiggins group as it began its chase of the leading men — an effort that would eventually fall well short.
The new break took some time to organize but eventually came together a few kilometers after it formed. But it didn’t take long for it to all apart.
The Box Hill climb, which was featured in the 2012 London Olympics road race, started with about 55km left in Sunday’s event. Gilbert surged ahead 3km into the ascent, a move that caused chaos in the group.
Two kilometers later, Gilbert was joined by 10 others and the 11-man pack steamrolled ahead. It would remain that way until Gilbert’s move with 20.5km remaining shook things up more.
After Gilbert’s attack on a larger breakaway group with just over 20km left, the Belgian was joined by four others — Blythe, Swift, Alaphilippe, and Kristijan Koren (Cannondale). After figuring each other out, the fivesome began working together a few minutes later.
But the smooth paceline was interrupted when Gilbert attacked with 15km to go. Only Alaphilippe was able to stay on his wheel, and the pair rode ahead of the other three for the next 4km before the chasing trio caught up to them.
Afterward, Gilbert said his moves were intended to make his breakaway mates “suffer a little bit.”
Back together with 11km to go, the group resumed its teamwork as it made its way to the finish line at The Mall in the heart of London.
With 5km left, the peloton was nearly two minutes behind and a four-man chase group was 50 seconds behind the leaders.
The leaders played a bit of cat and mouse in the final minutes of racing, with neither man wanting to commit to a final sprint. The group entered the final kilometer all together and at a seemingly leisurely pace.
Bythe’s move seemed to come unexpectedly, and he was able to surprise his opponents enough to keep them at bay and sprint to the victory.
Koren led them up The Mall with the finish line and Buckingham Palace in the distance. But Blythe launched his attack with 50 meters to go, surprising Swift, to take a hard-earned victory for the unfancied NFTO team.
Blythe threw his arms in the air as he crossed the line, a roar of triumph breaking out from his mud-spattered face.
“It’s hard to say how much this means to me,” said Blythe afterwards. “But you could see how emotional it was as my face said it all. OK, it’s not like I won the worlds or anything, but this is very big race for a British rider to win, especially in this setting in front of the Queen’s house. I hope she was watching.”