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Rowers, riders and charity fundraisers finish RideLondon sportives

It took around four hours for the first Prudential RideLondon sportive riders to roll under the finish gantry on The Mall in central London early on Sunday morning, former rower Mark Hunter among the first of an estimated 28,000 cyclists who will complete the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 and 46 events today.

The 2008 Olympic gold medallist was again the first celebrity to pedal down London’s grand boulevard, crossing the line in 4 hours 5 minutes, just five minutes ahead of TV presenter Matt Barbet.

Hunter was the first celebrity to complete the ride in 2016, after suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha three years ago. He was suffering today too, after completing the 100-mile challenge on barely four hours’ sleep, less than 24 hours after crashing a car at Silverstone during a charity event.

Despite his bruised back and stiff neck, Hunter was still disappointed not to have dipped under the four-hour barrier.

“I got home to Highbury at midnight, got up at 04:00 and set off before 06:00,” said Hunter, rubbing his whiplashed neck. “I suppose I should be pleased but I wanted to break four hours. I was going really well until 127km but the last 33 were hell. I just blew it.

“Overall, though, it was awesome as always. It’s such a fantastic event. I just love it, sailing through London when it’s closed. And there was a great atmosphere out there. Everyone was looking after each other.”

More than £41 million has been raised for charity by RideLondon cyclists in the event’s first four years and millions more are expected be donated in 2017.

Hunter is an alumni of SportsAid, having received £1,000 from the charity at 16 to get his career started. He is aiming to raise at least twice that at Prudential RideLondon to help future British sports stars.

“It’s an ongoing thing with the charity,” said Hunter. “They’ve helped so many of us and they’re so good at identifying young talent.

“I’ll be back next year to help them again. And to break four hours, definitely.”

After Saturday’s downpour the skies were clear on Sunday morning, and the roads mercifully dry as some 24,000 riders started the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100, the first waving rolling out of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at 05:45.

Barbet was also in that early wave and the Channel 5 newsreader and Cycle Show presenter was close to Hunter’s wheel at the end, completing the ride for the fourth time in 4:10.

“It was filthy on the roads at the start from last night’s rain, but then up to Leith Hill it was great fun,” he said. “Then I just blew up trying to stay with the front group. Mark showed me how to do it.

“I loved it though. Being able to ride on roads with no traffic is special. And the atmosphere is fantastic. We set off early but people were still out all along the route and on the way back from Kingston it was just getting bigger and louder.”

Having completed four RideLondon sportives and two London Marathons, Barbet is setting his sights on the London Classics, the three-event ‘triathlon’ challenge comprising the London Marathon, RideLondon-Surrey 100 and Swim Serpentine.

“I’m not a great swimmer but I’d love to do it,” he said. “I need to get training because I tend to go down in the water rather than along.”

Barbet may be going for his London Classics hat-trick over two years, but Heather Stanning is set to do the Classics trio within five months. The double Olympic rowing gold medallist ran her first London Marathon this April and today completed the 100-mile sportive for the first time today in 5:28.

“It’s a long old way, 100 miles,” said Stanning. “But I really enjoyed it. The atmosphere was great and it’s fun to be able to do it with friends and family when I don’t have to be competitive.

“It was far better than the marathon, anyway. That was painful. Now I just have Swim Serpentine in September and I’ve done the Classics. I need to get back in the pool, though. It won’t be fast, but I’ll be fine.”

Sir Chris Hoy acted as official starter of the shorter event before the six-times Olympic track gold medallist set off on his bike himself to greet riders with water bottles at Hampton Court and hand out prizes at the finish.

“It was a great day,” said Hoy after completing the 46 miles. “It’s just long enough to feel it in your legs without feeling destroyed by it.

“It’s long enough for me, anyway. I’m used to riding 30 seconds in a velodrome.”

Nicola Adams was also among the 46ers, one of more than 4,500 riders who set off in waves from Olympic Park from 09:04 in the event introduced last year to encourage younger and less experienced cyclists to get a taste of a mass participation event.

“It was tough, really tough,” said Adams moments after stepping off her bike.

“That’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s completely out of my comfort zone. There were a couple of hills in there I wasn’t expecting but I got through it.

“But there were loads of people cheering us on. It was great, but I’m definitely going back to the boxing ring.”

One of those watching it all from the roadside was Mark Cavendish, the 30-time Tour de France stage winner who called the event “pretty cool” as thousands streamed past him on The Mall.

“It’s great to see so many people out on their bikes,” he said. “They just keep coming and coming and coming.”

Brian Cookson, president of the Union Cycliste Internationale, officially started the longer sportive and arrived on The Mall six hours later after what he described as a “windy but enjoyable ride” through the car-free streets of the capital and over the Surrey hills.

“This is a fantastic demonstration of how accessible cycling is for everyone,” said the head of cycling’s international federation. “Not everyone can become an Olympic champion or ride the Tour de France but everyone can get on their bikes and get fitter and healthier.

“Cycling is a sport and past-time whose time has come. It ticks so many boxes for people and governments right around the world.

“This has been a fantastic weekend of cycling already and we still have a great race to come.”

Twenty-two of the world’s top men’s professional cycling teams will contest the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic this afternoon, a UCI WorldTour race that will bring the world’s greatest festival of cycling to an end at around 18:00 this evening.