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Kristoff bounces back to win London’s Classic

Alexander Kristoff bounced back from a disappointing Tour de France to win the fifth Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic with a thrilling sprint finish on The Mall in central London today.

The 30-year-old had six wins under his belt this season going into the Tour and was aiming for two stage wins before a heavy crash descending the Col d’Ornon ruined his chances, leaving the Norwegian with facial injuries and wounds to his arms and hands.

But the Katusha-Alpecin rider struggled on to place fourth in the Green Jersey contest and today showed points winner Michael Matthews what could have been when he left the Australian in his wake with a furious finish to take the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic title.

“It was great to win here,” said Kristoff. “After the disappointment of the Tour it’s really nice to bounce back and win in London.

“I knew my body was healing after the crash and luckily I had enough strength in my legs today to win. It’s been a long time without a big win for me and I was so frustrated in the Tour, but I knew my head was there; I just needed to get my legs back.”

Kristoff’s head and body were certainly in the right place when he burst off the wheel of Ireland’s Sam Bennett in the final few metres of the race today. The Bora – Hansgrohe rider had been picked to win by race director Mick Bennett and seemed to be in the perfect position as a large bunch swung around the final bend and onto the deceptively long finishing straight.

But with Matthews lurking behind him and Buckingham Palace gleaming up ahead, Kristoff released all his post-Tour angst to seal the victory. In the end it was just reward for his team’s hard racing over the 187km course after they had done the lion’s share of the work to catch a two-man break inside the last kilometre.

“I was suffering on the climbs but my team did an amazing job to bring the break back at the end,” said Kristoff. “That’s what we needed to do to win but we’ve not been team racing so well recently.”

Behind him Bennett’s challenge slipped away as Magnus Cort Neilsen, the Dane from Orica-Scott, stole up the side to take second with Matthews matching his third-place finish from 12 months ago.

“It was a really hard race today,” said Cort Neilsen. “We raced hard from the beginning. I think everyone felt up for it now that it’s a WorldTour event.

“All the teams that weren’t in the break were really pushing the pace in the last 50km to try to catch the break. I felt I was close at the end and I really wanted to win, but I’m sure tomorrow I’ll feel pleased with second.”

The same could not be said for Matthews who was frustrated with placing third for the second year in a row after arriving in London as the pre-race favourite following his Tour triumph.

“To be honest I felt really bad out there all day,” said the 26-year-old Team Sunweb rider. “It was not my best day on the bike; I couldn’t do anything.

“I tried to have an easy week after the Tour and I wanted to be really good this weekend, but I guess I’ve still got it in my legs.

“The team was still able to deliver me to the front which was nice. We stuck to the plan and in the end third was all we could get.”

For much of the day it was touch and go whether any of the big-name sprinters would get anything out of the day as the hard-racing peloton kept splitting apart as small groups broke away to open gaps that stubbornly refused close.

First, it was a five-man break containing Kristoff’s Katusha teammate Mads Wurst Schmidt, which opened a gap after 30km that grew to four minutes by the time they reached the first serious climb at Staple Lane, where Duval and Kreder lost touch.

Schmidt took the Continental Tyres King of the Mountain points and went on to take the KoM title at the end of the race as Leith Hill and Ranmore Common came and went before the remaining trio were caught by the pack 80km from home. 

With one more loop around Ranmore and the crucial climb up Box Hill to come, the British-based Team Sky appeared to get the race under control. Tao Geoghegan-Hart set an infernal pace to set up Peter Kennaugh for an attack, the Briton taking Matteo Trentin of Quick Step-Floors and South Africa’s time trial champion Daryl Impey of Orica-Scott with him.

Kennaugh soon let them go, sliding back to a chase group before Trek Segafredo’s Jasper Stuyven joined the leading pair after Box Hill. With less than 50km to go, this quality trio had a 20-second lead.

The threesome had a howling tail-wind at their backs and Stuyven’s Segafredo teammates disrupting the chase as the London-bound train steamed through Leatherhead, Oxshott, Esher and on to Kingston-upon-Thames on the outskirts of the capital, the streets lined with cheering fans enjoying the late afternoon sun.

This famously tough run-in spelt the end for Geraint Thomas’s brave break last year, and it did for Impey this time, though Stuyven and Trentin held their advantage as they tailed each other over Putney Bridge and on to the north bank of the river.

With 5km to go there was still all to play for as Sunweb, Katusha and Sky began to pile on the pressure. The two-man break survived all the way to Millbank with the Houses of Parliament looming above them, but it was all in vain.

The catch finally came on Whitehall with 1km to go before Kristoff found Bennett’s wheel at the perfect moment to seal a perfect day.

“It’s great to get it right here because this is a big race now, a WorldTour event and it’s getting bigger,” said the winner. “Now it will always be one I can say, when I’m talking on TV, ‘That’s a race I won.’”

Trentin’s hard work may have been in vain but he had the consolation of winning the Continental Tyres Sprint prize, while Stuyven summed up the feeling of so many who’ve tried to get away on the Classic course.

“We tried,” said the Trek Segafredo rider. “With 5km to go I thought we could still make it. I said to Matteo that we should just sprint, no gambling, so we left it all out there. I’m pleased I did my best.”

Not as pleased as Kristoff, who was back to his best.