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Race preview: RideLondon Classique returns with new three-day format

Strong sprint field lines up for flat tour around Essex and London.

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First launched in 2013 as an homage to the London 2012 Olympics road race, the RideLondon Classique has been hosted alongside the RideLondon sportive for the past nine years, and this year grows from a one-day circuit race to a three-day tour. Starting Friday, the race marks the first part of a UK WorldTour double-header before the Women’s Tour at the beginning of June.

The race organisers have ended the men’s RideLondon-Surrey Classic to focus solely on the Women’s WorldTour race and the sportive, and have also switched host region from Surrey to Essex. Once the richest women’s race on the calendar, the prize pot has shrunk from from €100,000 for the one-day race to now €60,000 across three stages. The added stages don’t, however, mean added live coverage, as only stage 3 is expected to be broadcast live with highlights available for stages 1 and 2.

Also read: 2022 Women’s WorldTour calendar

As the third WorldTour stage race in the calendar, the start list features 11 WorldTeams – Human Powered Health, BikeExchange-Jayco and Roland Cogeas Edelweiss have opted to skip a trip to Essex and London – nine UCI Continental teams, and a whole host of sprinting talent.

The route: sprinters’ delight

The race may be two stages longer in 2022, but it remains something of a sprinters’ race. Stage 1 and 2 may not be pan flat but shouldn’t be too hard for the sprinters, and the London stage on Sunday will be a fast and furious circuit race around the capital.

With time bonuses available at the finish of each stage, taking the overall victory will be about consistent results across the three days of racing.

Stage 1: Maldon to Maldon (137.1km)

Friday’s opening stage loops around the Abberton Reservoir in the eastern part of Essex before heading back to Maldon for two finishing laps, a recurring feature of the RideLondon Classique route. There are five marked climbs on the route, with Queen of the Mountains points awarded on the local lap in Maldon, but the ascents are fairly gentle and shouldn’t disrupt an expected sprint finish.

Stage 2: Chelmsford to Epping (141km)

Heading out of Chelmsford, stage 2 will take in a rolling parcours through northern Essex with around 1300 vertical metres to contend with before finishing on a circuit in Epping.

The final laps in Epping feature some short but tricky town centre climbs, which is unlikely to be enough to distance the sprinters, but will mean the finish suits a stronger ride and makes positioning key in the closing kilometres.

Stage 3: Victoria Embankment (85.3km)

Stage 3 harks back to the previous one-day editions of RideLondon Classique with a central London circuit race, though the route is different. Rather than starting and finishing on The Mall, the route starts on the Victoria Embankment, taking in a loop around Westminster before the final straight alongside the Thames River.

The stage will be 11 laps in total, starting with two short laps (7.3km), followed by nine repetitions of the longer lap, which includes a loop around Pall Mall and Piccadilly for a length of 10.1km. The final stage will be short and fast, with the winner needing not only a lot of pure speed but also good technical skills on the tight, city centre roads.

The contenders: Balsamo vs Wiebes vs everyone else

On a course designed for the fast riders of the peloton, RideLondon will reignite the rivalry between the fastest of them all as Lorena Wiebes and Elisa Balsamo go head-to-head for the first time since the Classics. There’s a strong crop of sprinters on the startline, but all eyes will be on the pair who have been first and second to each other more times than you can count.

Elisa Balsamo returns to the road for the first time since being disqualified from Paris-Roubaix, and will be hoping to turn around a winless May for Trek-Segafredo. The World Champion will be supported by a strong lead-out train in the form of Chloe Hosking, Amalie Dideriksen and Letizia Paternoster, who could all also slot into the role of leader if Balsamo finds herself out of contention. A successful Classics rider, the slightly more difficult roads of stage 1 and 2 shouldn’t prove an issue for the Italian and her consistency lends itself well to an overall victory come Sunday.

While Balsamo is so far ahead in the number of WorldTour wins this season, Lorena Wiebes and the dialled-in Team DSM train are well-placed to win one – or two, or three – back this weekend if Wiebes can get a clear run at the line. Wiebes has won the RideLondon Classique once before – in 2019, after Kirsten Wild was disqualified – and when it comes to a fast, uncomplicated finish, very few riders have a faster turn of speed than the Dutch rider.

The list of the ‘best of the rest’ list is topped by Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) who already has six sprint victories to her name this season. Bastianelli thrives at the end of a long, difficult day so will be looking at stages 1 and 2 as opportunities to add another win to her tally. Emma Norsgaard will be sprinting for Movistar and similarly to Bastianelli, she will be better suited to a harder race than the fast, technical day on stage 3. Stage 1 likely her best chance for a win, though she could also do well overall with some consistent finishes.

In the absence of Lotte Kopecky, SD Worx’s best sprint option is likely Lonneke Uneken, who won a stage of the EasyToys Bloeizone Fryslân Tour earlier this year. Similarly missing their headline rider in Vos, Jumbo-Visma will have 2017 RideLondon Classique winner Coryn Labecki as their leader, though don’t be surprised to see Anna Henderson riding aggressively too. After being one of the team’s of the spring, FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope don’t have an obvious stage winner on their roster but will hope to have Clara Copponi and Vittoria Guazzini in the mix.

As well as the big name sprinters, there are a few less obvious picks who are in excellent sprinting form this month. Rachele Barbieri (Liv Racing Xstra) already has a win and two podiums to her name in May, and will have a solid lead-out option in Alison Jackson. AG Insurance-NXTG’s Kiwi sprinter Ally Wollaston will make her WorldTour debut at RideLondon and has been on an impressive run of form in a block of French races.. After three podium finishes and 3rd overall at the Bretagne Ladies Tour, Wollaston won the GP du Morbihan Féminin by outspriting Vittoria Guazzini and Grace Brown and could be a dark horse over the weekend. The win might be a hard task, but Wollaston is certainly capable of a top-10.

The classifications: chances for non-sprinters

With the stage victories all expected to go to sprinters, many of the smaller teams and riders will be on the hunt for jerseys and classification wins over the weekend. There are intermediate sprints on all stages, but the bulk of points are available at the finish, meaning the points jersey will likely go to a sprinter over a breakaway rider, but the climber’s jersey is more attainable with QOM climbs on stages 1 and 2. There are also jerseys available for the best young rider and best British rider.

As we saw on stage 2 of the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas, strong breakaways can be hard to catch even on fairly innocuous parcours, so the peloton will have to be careful who they let go in the expected jersey-hunting breaks.