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Cipolletta completes an emotional ride as thousands finish sportive

It was the memory of his late father that drove Francesco Cipolletta to be first rider to cross the line in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 this morning as the amateur Italian cyclist completed an emotional journey in front of Buckingham Palace just a few days before his 37th birthday.

Last year the Pisa-based rider suffered the traumatic loss of his 64-year-old dad, Ernesto, to a brain haemorrhage and today he rode the 100-mile sportive through the streets of the British capital and over the Surrey Hills of south east England with Ernesto’s name embroidered in black on his white Team ShopTo cycling jersey.

“It has been so emotional for me from start to finish,” said Cipolletta. “I have been thinking about him all day, from arriving in London yesterday to the end of the ride.

“I was carrying him with me all through the beautiful course. In the last five kilometres I was thinking about him and it made me determined to be the first one.”

Cipolletta rode into the capital alongside Gunther Zechmann, an Austrian banker based in London, the pair well ahead of the rest of the 25,824 riders who had left Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from 06:00 this morning.

Powered by his dad’s memory, Cipolletta had set his own pace, and he and Zechmann entered the final stretch down The Mall side-by-side with the Queen Victoria Memorial gleaming in the distance.

“It was the best ride I’ve ever done,” said Cipolletta, who described the whole experience as a welcome early birthday present, his words interpreted by his London-based cousin Igor, who pedalled home a few minutes later.

“To finish in front of Buckingham Palace with 26,000 people in front of such a big crowd giving us such a fantastic welcome was just perfect. It is the biggest sportive I’ve ever done for numbers and the best for atmosphere. It was beautiful.”

It was a sentiment Zechmann was happy to endorse after he had ridden alone with his new-found Italian friend for more than an hour and a half, the duo working together all the way from Box Hill, just before the 70-mile point.

“It was a long, long push for the two of us, but it was a fantastic event because it’s so well organised,” said the 32-year-old London Phoenix rider who endured last year’s torrential weather on his 100 debut and rode this one just weeks after recovering from bronchitis.

“This is my second time, but my first time dry,” he said. “It was so wet and slippery last year, but it was much more enjoyable this time. It’s such a brilliant atmosphere and it was great to start in Stratford.”

Zechmann is used to riding through London on his way to work at Goldman Sachs, and described the opportunity to speed through the capital on closed roads as “pretty epic”.

“I’ve ridden lots of sportives, but going through London on closed roads puts this one right up with the best,” he said.

The friendly atmosphere also made an impression on Tom Hargreaves of the London Dynamo club, another of the early finishers.

“It’s amazing to finish on The Mall, riding with really talented guys,” he said.  “There are a lot of club cyclists who all know each other so it’s nice to have a chat along the way with guys you might not have seen for a while. There’s a nice camaraderie and great atmosphere out there.”

TV journalist Matt Barbet was the first celebrity to roll down London’s grand boulevard, the 5 News presenter passing beneath the finish gantry after four hours and 24 minutes.

“I was trying to beat my best time and I did it by 20 minutes, but like any cycling effort a lot of it is down to other people,” said Barbet, who has taken part in all three RideLondon sportives. “I rode with lots of people today and that’s what makes cycling so unique – working as a team counts for so much.

“The course today was just fantastic,” he added. “The fact that people are willing to get up at eight on a Sunday morning and clap us as we go past is amazing.

“Then, just riding along the Embankment, up to Trafalgar Square and down The Mall, it doesn’t get any better than that. I love London and it’s days like this that make you fall in love with it all over again.

“It’s such an unmitigated success this event, with people raising so much money for charity in a city like London, which people always accuse of being so reserved and impersonal. That’s what makes RideLondon worth its weight in gold.”

Craig Green was just one among the many thousands of cyclists riding to raise money for charitable causes. The former prisoner, who suffers from a rare condition called Poland syndrome, completed the 100-mile challenge for the disability charity Scope, this year’s Prudential RideLondon charity of the year.

“When I was at school I was told I’d never be able to get into a trade because of my arm,” said Green, who is missing his right pectoral muscles and fingers on his right hand. “I ended up going down the wrong path and got involved in things I shouldn’t have.”

Green turned his life around after serving two years for drug offences and took up cycling as part of his recovery.

“I jumped at the chance to ride for Scope as I’m disabled,” said Green. “It was a great chance to talk about all the good work they do for disability across the board. To ride for the official charity of the year made it even more special, it really motivated me to train hard and ride well.

“Seeing the Scope team out supporting around the route was brilliant. The public out in the Surrey Hills and in all the little villages were amazing too.”