Examining Post-Tour De France Motivations Via the London-Surrey Classic

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Examining Post-Tour De France Motivations Via the London-Surrey Classic
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
NFTO Pro Cycling's Adam Blythe just got the better of Team Sky's Ben Swift at the RideLondon-Surrey Classic in England this past weekend.

The Tour de France finished just over two weeks ago now. For many, that will be their cycling fix for the year completed.

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Movistar's Alejandro Valverde (centre) celebrates victory at Clasica San Sebastian after a frustrating Tour de France for the Spaniard.

For the rest of us, there is still plenty of racing left to enjoy this year; for the professionals, a lot of work to be done.

Since the Tour concluded, there has been a thrilling Clasica San Sebastian, a dramatic weather-hit Tour de Pologne and the Tour of Utah, too.

Northern Europe's Eneco Tour is now underway with the Arctic Race of Norway and the USA Pro Challenge also starting over the next fortnight (among others), with the Vuelta a Espana looming ominously and excitingly in the near distance.

Every year this stretch between Grand Tours makes for a fascinating period. There are those competing whose season was unlikely or maybe never going to be defined by three weeks in France. Others, meanwhile, are attempting to make up for not being there or were there but now need to establish new objectives after a disappointing experience.

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Blythe leaves fellow escapees Swift, Julian Alaphilippe, Philippe Gilbert and Kristijan Koren in his wake to record a big win on The Mall.

This past Sunday's RideLondon-Surrey Classic certainly contained a mixture of all of the above. Promoted to Hors Cateogrie status by cycling's governing body, the UCI, the second edition of the English race was won by NFTO Pro Cycling's Adam Blythe.

The Englishman finished first after a gruelling day's ride through wind, rain and many puddles, from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London, up circuits of Surrey climbs including Box Hill, and concluding on the famous red road of the Mall (now features of this race but also familiar to those who watched the 2012 Olympic road races and, in the case of the latter, Stage 3 of the 2014 Tour).

With Buckingham Palace in sight after a couple of kilometres worth of warily eying up each others' movements, Blythe got the jump from the back on his four breakaway companions—Sky's Ben Swift, Julian Alaphilippe of Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, BMC's one-day specialist and 2012 world champion Philippe Gilbert, and Cannondale's Kristijan Koren.

All caught by surprise, Swift's vain attempts at catching his fellow Englishman proved in vain.

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Blythe's win at the London-Surrey Classic could mean big things for his career heading into 2015.

Blythe has experience on the World Tour level having as recently as last year raced for BMC, where he also happened to work with Gilbert. Having stepped down a notch, he was understandably delighted to record a considerable victory in such talented company.

It's one he now believes that, with all due respect to NFTO, can see him push on again.

Speaking to CyclingNews' Sadhbh O'Shea, he said:

I’ve showed that I can win races, but it would be nice to go into a team and help someone. I think it would help me in my career. To get myself back on track by helping someone and being picked to go to races to help someone.

While getting back to that level is at the forefront of Blythe's mind, the runner-up in London, Sky's Swift, has his sights on maintaining what has been strong form in 2014, particularly after a shoulder injury ravaged his 2013 season.

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Swift has been pleased with his 2014 so far and has hopes of finishing it in some style too.

"Last year was an absolute terrible year, as bad as you get," he reflected after taking his spot on the podium following Sunday's race. "[I'm] just really happy to be up there and contesting and to be in races like that."

Swift's second in this year's London-Surrey Classic followed his third in the year's first monument, Milan-San Remo, as well as victories in stages at Settimana Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali and the Tour of the Basque Country.

The Yorkshireman also completed this year's Giro d'Italia, finishing a commendable 113th out of 156.

As good as the results have largely been, the 26-year-old was just as pleased with the nature of his performance, and what it means for his development as a cyclist moving forward:

Normally I just sit in and the team rides and I go for the sprint. Never normally really trying to animate the race and get in the selections and stuff like that. So that was nice to do and I think it shows the condition is coming now

The World Championships [on September 28 in Ponferrada, Spain] is a bit of a focus. So the form is building slowly up to that now. It was nice to get that result today under the circumstances. To be able to race like that was good and I think it shows good signs for the future.

Swift's Sky team-mate Ian Stannard is approaching the rest of the year from a less welcome perspective.

Michael Steele/Getty Images
Stannard, left, just pipped BMC's Greg Van Avermaet to the win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in March.

After a good win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the beginning of spring, Stannard suffered a fractured vertebra in a crash at Gent-Wevelgem. Though his Classics campaign was ended there and then, hopes of a fairly quick recovery were not ruled out. Unfortunately an early-summer return was not to be.

Speaking to Team Sky's official website in May, the 27-year-old revealed his doctor informed him "I’d been really lucky not to suffer any permanent damage because my vertebrae had been quite badly damaged."

Stannard admitted to being "pretty stuffed" after rolling in 66th at London-Surrey, eight minutes down but glad to be back racing. He had done his shift at the front helping his team catch an early breakway and was covered in the mud that reflected his efforts on a day in which he accurately noted "the weather didn’t know what it wanted to do."

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Stannard was firmly back in action at London-Surrey, playing his part in helping establish the eventually victorious escape in which his Sky team-mate Swift fell just short.

"I haven’t got the racing speed in my legs, and it’s quite hard and it started going quicker up the climbs I really felt it," he added.

"A bit of work to do but mostly it’s nice to be back racing and finish the season off and then have a good winter into next year."

Sky team manager Sir Dave Brailsford said prior to Sunday's race that the plan for Stannard heading into the autumn was to ease him in it "bit-by-bit really because of his back injuries, coming back from that so we’ll play it a little bit by ear."

Stannard further described the whole experience as a "real eye-opener to how hard cycling is as well."

He, along with fellow London-Surrey competitors such as Gilbert and Koren, are back in action this week at the Eneco Tour.

Form, fitness, contract opportunities, victories and glory—it is all at stake for these men whose respective seasons are far from over yet.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

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