The biggest talking points ahead of RideLondon Classique - Preview

RideLondon Classique brings peloton passed The Big Ben in London
RideLondon Classique brings peloton passed The Big Ben in London (Image credit: Getty Images)

The frantic month of May closes with its fourth stage race on the Women's WorldTour, and after three events in Spain, the peloton heads to the UK for the country’s only women’s top-tier event at the Ford RideLondon Classique held from May 26-28.

The event began life in 2013 as a one-day criterium around some of London’s most iconic sights before being promoted to the WorldTour in the top tier’s first season three years later. 

Last season the race expanded to three days, adding two stages in the Essex countryside, north and east of the capital, before the traditional central London finale, and organisers have replicated that route for 2023.

Cyclingnews highlights some of the main talking points ahead of the three-day RideLondon Classique.

Join Cyclingnews' coverage of the 2023 RideLondon Classique and check back after the event for the full race reports, results, photo galleries, storylines and race analysis

Could SD Worx’s absence bring more open racing? 

SD Worx racing in Spain

SD Worx racing in Spain (Image credit: Getty Images)

There’s no doubt SD Worx have been the team of the year to date. Already this season, the Dutch super team have clocked up 25 victories between four of their 16 women, and the majority of those have been at WorldTour level. Indeed, of the 33 Women’s WorldTour victories available so far - including overall general classifications - they have won 20.

Such has been their dominance they seem to have exerted a stranglehold on the peloton, occasionally cowing other teams into inaction. Many times we have seen them close down any move they felt undesirable, whatever the time in the race, attackers' efforts undermined by the apparent inevitability of another SD Worx success.

But they won’t be in London, despite having recruited last year’s clean sweep winner Lorena Wiebes from DSM, choosing to head to Germany for Internationale LOTTO Thüringen Ladies Tour. Teams will consequently arrive in Saffron Walden for Friday’s opening stage confident their efforts will not be snuffed out by the SD Worx juggernaut, and their absence may even leave a void where squads look to each other to take responsibility.

While there’s a chance this could cause stasis, that is not the nature of women’s racing, and it is more likely to reignite the aggressive, frantic racing the women’s peloton is so well known for, making for exciting viewing.

Anticipation for a sprinter’s race  

The women's peloton sprinting

The women's peloton sprinting (Image credit: Getty Images)

With its roots as what is essentially a criterium, RideLondon is known as one for the sprinters. The closest it ever came to being won by an all-rounder was when Coryn Labecki (née Rivera) won while riding for Sunweb in 2017, then the American, who now rides for Jumbo-Visma, won in a bunch sprint.

Even last year’s extended race was won by Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx), the imperious Dutchwoman taking all three stages. But this year may be different, with organisers making small but key changes to the route.

For the opening 146.4km stage, the race heads to its northernmost ever spot, starting in Saffron Walden, close to Cambridge and almost 100km north of Sunday’s final finish line. The route takes the peloton generally east to the Essex coast before turning southwest to Colchester to a finish Cyclingnews understands was initially earmarked by the Women’s Tour.

Though two roundabouts between 1,000 and 500m to go will be crucial for positioning, the final is not overly technical, but the final 500m averages 4.2%, with steeper ramps setting a challenge for the pure sprinters.

To all intents and purposes, stage 2, starting and finishing in Maldon, is identical to last year’s opening day, though at 133.1km, it’s slightly shorter. Starting with one large loop, the race then tackles three, instead of last year’s two, laps of a shorter circuit, each of which includes North Hill in Little Baddow. While this is about as far from an Alpine climb as you can imagine, each ascent could act as a springboard, and the last time up is 13.1km suggesting aggressive racing from those teams without a forty-line sprinter.

Sunday’s final stage 3 returns to central London for eight laps of an 11.5km circuit, the race returning to finish on The Mall after concluding on The Embankment last year. Any time gaps from the preceding stages are likely to be small, and the presence of bonus seconds on the line and at two intermediate sprints are likely to add spice.

The contenders

Chloe Dygert (Canyon-SRAM)

Chloe Dygert (Canyon-SRAM) (Image credit: Getty Images)

While last year’s winner will be absent and unable to make it three RideLondon victories on the bounce, her old team, DSM, arrive with a squad perfectly capable of retaining the crown.

With four victories so far this season, including at a ZLM Omloop der Kempen last week, Charlotte Kool is proving to be an able challenger to her former boss, Wiebes and DSM still possess arguably the best-drilled lead-out in the women’s peloton. However, the tweaked route may not suit the 24-year-old and Pfeiffer Georgi may be given the chance to ride for victory on home roads.

But DSM are not the only squad in the race with multiple options. Though they have plenty of top 10 finishes to their name this year, UAE Team ADQ are yet to score a top-tier win but have a top sprinting option in Chiara Consonni. However, the team expect the more versatile Eleonora Gasparrini to lead, especially given the marginally harder parcours.

Chloé Dygert’s (Canyon-SRAM) recent performances in the Spanish races have been remarkable, especially since injury and illness prevented her from racing for well over a year. She heads to the UK with six top-10 finishes from nine race days this month. The majority of those come from bunch kicks after gnarly stages, and provided she nails her timing, the American seems perfectly suited to what Ride London will serve up this weekend.

Canyon-SRAM also have young Belgian Shari Bossuyt on their roster, and in the unlikely event Dygert misfires, she may well be given her chance. However, without a WorldTour victory to their name this year, the team will be desperate for success.

Elisa Balsamo finished second last year and will lead a strong, well balanced Trek-Segafredo team. The Italian champion is perhaps the best suited rider on the start list, she can get over much harder hills than Essex can provide with enough in reserve to sprint and in Ilaria Sanguinetti has an excellent lead out. And, should stage one’s uphill final prove too hard, Lizzie Deignan may take on sprinting duties having declared herself back to race sharpness after maternity leave.

The UK's only WorldTour race, live TV 

RideLondon Classique

RideLondon Classique (Image credit: Getty Images)

Last March organisers of the Women’s Tour announced their race would be placed on hold for a year, leaving RideLondon as the only women’s UCI race in the UK. In contrast to the then one-day RideLondon, the Women’s Tour was one of the world’s most coveted races, and its absence leaves a gap in the calendar that RideLondon cannot fill in its present format. 

While the Women’s Tour was able to head far and wide to tackle more challenging and race-defining terrain, as it stands, RideLondon is restricted to England’s South East which lacks real hills, especially as it is unlikely to head south to the lumpier roads of the now defunct men’s RideLondon-Surrey Classic.

RideLondon’s expansion from one day to stage race and its associated move to Essex is likely to impact the Women’s Tour should it return next year. Over the latter race’s eight editions, the county has hosted six stages - four in the last two editions, and the council may well be unwilling to accept two races on its roads in a space of three weeks.

To put further pressure on top-level women’s racing in the UK organisers of the German race, Internationale LOTTO Thüringen Ladies Tour, which is competed for concurrently, have long sought promotion to the WorldTour and recently stated their intention to apply for 2024.

One snippet of good news is RideLondon will benefit from live coverage, not just for the final stage as in 2022, but for all three days.

Where are all the WorldTeams?

Israel Premier Tech Roland in the hunt for points

Israel Premier Tech Roland in the hunt for points (Image credit: Getty Images)

Along with 10 Continental teams, only nine of the 15 WorldTour squads will take to the start in Saffron Walden.

Without a doubt, the highest profile absentees are SD Worx, who have instead headed to Germany, taking the 2022 RideLondon winner to the Internationale LOTTO Thüringen Ladies Tour with Ride London 2022 champion. 

Indeed, of the 18 Women’s WorldTour races so far this year, only eight have attracted all the top-tier teams, and RideLondon is far from the worst attended. That January’s Australian races attracted six is perhaps not surprising given the geographical location, but the recent Itzulia Women only hosted eight of the 15 squads. So where are they?

Next year’s Women’s WorldTeam selection will be decided on the teams’ position in the rolling UCI World Ranking, with those outside the top 15 being relegated at the end of this year. So rather than head to WorldTour races where they feel they are unable to score points, some of the at-risk teams are headed elsewhere in the hope of boosting their standings.

One team to have taken a different approach is Israel PremierTech-Roland. Ranked 17th, the Swiss team are currently most at risk, but instead of shying away, they are one of only two teams to have raced every WorldTour race so far this season, something that should perhaps be applauded.

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