The 28-year-old was part of an eight-strong group of cyclists that burst clear of the peloton with a quarter of the 200-kilometre race to go before four riders hared up Whitehall and under Admiralty Arch in pursuit of glory.
Swift led them up The Mall with the Finish Line in sight and Buckingham Palace visible in the distance, the Team Sky sprinter desperate to make amends for last year when he lost by a hair’s width to Adam Blythe.
But Drucker had been tailing him home and the Luxembourg rider launched his attack with 50 metres to go, surprising the Briton and Lotto NL-Jumbo’s Teunissen to take a hard-earned victory built on brilliant teamwork by his experienced BMC Racing Team.
Drucker threw his arm in the air as he crossed the line to thunderous roars, a huge grin breaking out on his bearded face.
“To get my first professional win in front of Buckingham Palace is so special,” said Drucker. “The crowd here is so crazy about cycling, it’s fantastic to get my first win here.
“I love racing in England. I did the Tour of Yorkshire this year and that was fantastic too. After getting my first pro win here, I love it even more.”
Swift broke his shoulder in the Yorkshire race but fought his way back from surgery to bid for victory in this event, still smarting from last year’s defeat. He led the three medallists in a hard chase along Millbank to reel in Teunissen’s team-mate Sep Vanmarcke, who had made a lone bid for victory 12km out.
Once they’d overpowered the Belgian, all the smart money was on the Sheffield man, a renowned finishing kicker. But Drucker had finished just behind ‘Manx missile’ Mark Cavendish in California earlier this year and was confident of his chances.
“I was feeling good all day and at the end I just kept my eye on Swift,” said Drucker. “I could see he was very motivated and really wanted victory in front of his own crowd. I knew he would go for the win, but I worked hard as well.
“I’m a fast guy too and I just tried not to make any mistakes. I love it when it’s hard and that was our plan. We tried to make it a hard race by moving guys to the front. It always feels so good when a plan works out.”
As for Swift, in the end he was happy enough to make the podium for the second year in a row after missing three months’ training, although he admitted to miscalculating his finish.
“I had to go really hard in the last few kilometres and I started to cramp up a little bit from the effort of chasing,” said Swift. “Even though I’d have loved to have won, I’m really, really happy.
“I had three months out of competition so this is a really nice way to come back to racing and get a good result straight away. It was good to be on the podium.
“I couldn’t see any metres-to-go boards so I got caught on the front, trying to get the others to come round me, but you could see the guys coming from behind so you couldn’t play too much cat-and-mouse.”
As for Cavendish, the much-fancied Briton was missing his key lead-out man Mark Renshaw and was not at his best after a week-long illness following the Tour de France. It quickly became clear that he wasn’t going to save himself for a final sprint as he spearheaded not one, but two attacks during the race, and coasted home 44th.
In fact, Cavendish was barely out of the camera lens in the early stages as he could be seen chatting with Britain’s other big-name star Sir Bradley Wiggins as the field of 143 riders rolled off the red carpet and away from the signing-on point at Horse Guards Parade, and he was among a group of four in a mini-break shortly after the peloton passed over Hampton Court Bridge.
The Briton was soon at the back of the race, however, where he stopped to receive mechanical attention to the front of his bike, leaving him briefly off the pace.
Madison Genesis rider Erick Rowsell, brother of Olympic gold medallist and RideLondon-Surrey 100 rider Joanna, was among a group of five who then escaped as the peloton rattled through Byfleet to Ripley and on to the sun-splashed Surrey countryside.
Another Briton, Peter Williams of One Pro Cycling, was also in the breakaway, along with the young Italian Riccardo Stacchiotti of Vini Fantini, Topspot Vlaanderen’s Sander Helven, and Lander Seynaeve of Wanty-Group Gobert.
They opened a gap of five minutes with just over a quarter of the race gone and stayed away over the first four of the event’s five categorised climbs up Leith Hill and over Ranmore Common three times.
Rowsell, from Sutton, was racing in his own backyard and the Surrey man used his local knowledge to lead up the narrow lanes and over the summits, amassing points for the King of the Mountains competition, while Williams concentrated on securing the sprint title, out-battling Stacchiotti for the honour.
BMC sent their young Dutch stagiaire Floris Gerts up the road to try and bridge the gap, and by the time they’d completed the three Ranmore loops, he had replaced Seynaeve among the leaders. The peloton broke up on the third Ranmore climb, and Lotto NL-Jumbo charged out to reel them in like a pack of wolves hunting down their prey.
Seven men reached the base of Box Hill with just over 50km to go. But their time alone was numbered and Gerts’s team-mates Philippe Gilbert and Rohan Dennis emerged from the pack for the first time to lead the chase up the slopes, driving on at the top in an attempt to leave the race sprinters in their wake.
With an hour’s racing still to go, it was now a case of heads down for the city. Cavendish briefly launched himself out in front with Dennis, then eight burst clear to open a gap that grew to more than a minute as they reached Kingston for a second time.
Among them were Swift, Drucker, Vanmarcke and Tuenissen. The gap grew to two-and-a-half minutes and with just 15km to go the main field called off the hunt.
Vanmarcke attacked as they skirted Wimbledon Common and he opened a 16-second lead as he crossed the river at Putney Bridge. A well-practised one-day rider, the Belgian seemed to be pulling away. But he was he gasping for air, and the lead vanished as Swift led the chasers on the run-in to along Millbank and past the Houses of Parliament.
It was a hard slog. Too hard as it turned out for the Briton, as Drucker burst off his shoulder for the win of his life.
Swift may have missed out, but there was some good news for Britain as a delighted Rowsell bagged the King of the Mountains contest on the rolling hills he’s been riding since he was 14.
“They are all local roads to me,” said the 25-year-old. “I grew up riding around here and have been up Box Hill and Leith Hill hundreds of times. I knew no one in the race would know these hills as well as me.
“So to win King of the Mountains here made it a perfect day.”
It was a perfect day for Jean-Pierre Drucker too.
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