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Wilk wins again as Grand Prix kicks off Prudential RideLondon weekend

Rafal Wilk made it two wins out of two at the Prudential RideLondon Elite Handcycle race as the Grand Prix kicked off Prudential RideLondon weekend with a string of fast-paced races.

Wilk saw off a challenge from Paralympian Heinz Frei to claim his second victory in as many years, as Christiane Reppe took the win in the women’s race.

There was a clean sweep for London riders in the Youths Grand Prix, while the capital was also celebrating James Pearce’s first-place finish in the Prudential RideLondon Handcycle Grand Prix.

Prudential RideLondon Elite Handcycle Grand Prix

Wilk followed up his victory in 2016 with a win over Frei, who had threatened to call on his vast experience to upset the Pole.

Wilk, the reigning road race world champion and 2016 Paralympic silver medallist, was pushed hard by the vastly experienced Frei, but shook off the challenge from the decorated Swiss cyclist to finish in a time of 46:05.

“We were working together, then in the last laps we increased the speed,” said Wilk afterwards.

“We pushed hard and then it all finished, for me, during the last lap.

“It’s a very nice race; it’s my second time at Prudential RideLondon and my second win so I’m very happy. I think I’ll be back.”

Frei recorded a time of 46:11, with Polish handcyclist Arkadiusz Skrzpinski finishing third in 47:24.

The women’s crown was also claimed by a world champion, as Germany’s Christiane Reppe edged out Poland's Renata Kaluza and Russia's Svetlana Moshkovich to take a close-run sprint finish.

Reppe picked up the pace on the final straight to take the win in 48:28, with Kaluza narrowly pipping Moshkovich on the line for second place.

“We were waiting until the last lap and the last few metres,” said Reppe. “I think we started the sprint at the last hill and then it was nice because you’re going downhill and you’re going very fast. I’m happy.”

Reppe is now hoping to follow up her Prudential RideLondon debut victory with a return to the event in 2018.

“I would like to come back next year and I would love to have more riders here, that would be nice’” she said.

“It’s a great event; it’s a nice course for people who want to see us because we’re doing a lot of laps and it’s well organised; that’s really important.”

Prudential RideLondon Handcycle Grand Prix

It was the Prudential RideLondon Handcycle Grand Prix – a race developed especially for war veterans and injured servicemen or women and for those new to handcycling –  which kicked off proceedings at a bright and breezy Lee Valley VeloPark.

The 30-minute criterium race was comfortably won by London-based rider James Pearce, who completed 10 laps of the VeloPark road circuit.

Pearce came second in 2016, but held the lead from the start this year and had extended the gap to second place by a sizeable margin as he crossed the Finish Line, having completed 10 laps in a time of 32:15, with Andrew Darby finishing as runner-up and Ryan Rauf in third.

Dr Jen Warren, who will represent the UK Armed Forces Team at the Invictus Games in Toronto in September, finished as the first and only woman in the race.

Prudential RideLondon Youths Grand Prix

The Prudential RideLondon Youths Grand Prix – road races for boys and girls in under 14 and under 16 age categories – saw a series of sprint finishes, which pointed to a promising future for British cycling.

The first winner of the afternoon was Natalie Bloomer, who finished just ahead of Rosie Finucane and Izzy Brickell in a time of 44:40, claiming the first of a number of wins for the London region in the Girls’ B race.

Finucane, from Wales, whose sister Emma is the junior national circuit race champion, was just beaten to the line by Bloomer, with Brickell (representing the South) just one second behind.

The Boys’ B race was a similar affair, with the lead changing all the time and a number of attempts by riders in the pack to stretch the race.

Lance Childs of the South East region was at the front going into the final two laps, but had surrendered his position to the North West’s Cameron Pilkington as the bell rang for the final lap.

But it was Billy Gilbey from London who took the win in a tight bunch finish, closely followed by Tom Sharples and Innes Harvey in second and third respectively.

The Girls’ A race also saw plenty of attempts to attack and draw out the field throughout, with Ellie Shaw and Eve Barrow both making their way to the front and the Eastern region team working together heading into the final lap.

The winner, however, was 15-year-old Kate Wootton, who saw off the challenge of Emma Finucane in another close finish, with Barrow and Danielle Parker from Wales finishing second and third.

“I wasn’t expecting to win the last sprint because I was not in the best position,” said Wootton, who is from Haringey. “There were a lot of tactics through the race, and a lot of attacking, but I knew it would all come down to the end.”

The victory saw Wootton improve dramatically on her 11th-place finish at the event last year and has boosted her confidence – and helped her set her heights high for the future.

“I crashed at the national road race championships recently so I wasn’t very happy with that, but winning here helps with my motivation for next week’s national track championships.

“RideLondon is really good because it makes you feel like a pro with all the kit and cameras. It makes me really want to be a pro someday. I’d like to win Olympic gold and the Tour de France. Hopefully, they’ll have a women’s Tour by then.”

The day’s racing concluded with a win for Finley Newmark in the A Boys’ race as London completed a clean sweep.

Having stayed in the peloton for much of the race as a number of riders attacked the front, Newmark made his move down the outside on the final straight to finish ahead of fellow Londoner Louis Bilyard, with George Mills Keeling of the West Midlands in third.

“I was really far back with a lap to go and thought ‘It’s not going to be my day,’” Newmark said. “I thought I’d blown it when a gap opened up on the outside. I literally dived straight through it and there was just enough space to get to the line.

He added: “RideLondon is a great event. It gets loads of people on their bikes doing the 100-mile ride and events like this are really important for the development of the sport and riders of the future.”

Prudential RideLondon BMX Grand Prix

Away from the road circuit and over on the BMX track, after an afternoon of keenly contested qualifiers and the new ‘Come and Try It’ sessions for first-timers to the sport, the Prudential RideLondon BMX Grand Prix provided plenty of excitement.

 A pair of Hayes Hawks riders were victorious in the finals, as Jason Daley won the Expert 15-16 race at the top of the age group categories, with Hannah Teeton winning in the under-8 girls race. Hayes were also the overall winner of the Team Club competition.

The Expert Girls 15-16 race was won by Nuneaton BMX Club’s Markella Houli, while Eboni Lennon picked up the win for Peckham Challengers in the Expert 11-12 Girls category. Kamil Suleyman of Hackney was first in the Expert 11-12 Boys race, as was Edward Pole in the Expert 13-14 Boys race.

Festival Zone

Meanwhile, at the Grand Prix Festival Zone, Action Sports Tour BMX stunt riders Tom Cardy, Joe Bradley and Jack Hobson wowed the crowds with a series of backflips, tailwhips and 360-degree spins throughout the day – despite the ever-increasing tailwinds.

Crowds at the Festival Zone were also able to try their hand (and legs) at making a smoothie with a bike-powered juice maker, while Rollapaluza offered friends and family the chance to race against each other on static bikes.

You could even spot the odd Penny Farthing cycling around the grounds throughout the day – a fitting scene to start the world’s greatest festival of cycling.