The catch of the late escape of Matteo Trentin (Quickstep Floors) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) was left until the final kilometre, but it ended up being a day for the sprinters, with the bunch lining up to contest the flat finish along the Mall.
Kristoff emerged the strongest of the fast men, using the Bora-Hansgrohe sprint train and surging clear to take victory. The German team had been looking to set the race up for Sam Bennet, but the Irishman couldn't hold the high speed on the front, fading to finish eighth, with the fast-finishing pair of Nielsen and Matthews filling out the podium.
Kristoff has come in for significant criticism from his team, with weight issues being raised as one of the reasons the big Norwegian has has a less successful season in terms of victories. With the win here, Kristoff took his second WorldTour win, backing up his success at Eschborn-Frankfurt.
"We weren't able to win at all in the Tour, so we wanted to bounce back today," Kristoff said. "Today we showed we still have a good level and everybody was committed. I knew this course and knew it suited me quite well."
"After my crash in the Tour I did not feel so good and not in training either, but today it was ok. I could not really follow on the climb, but I felt much better than I did at the Tour. I knew I had a good shot and at the end Michael Mørkøv placed me very well for the final and I just had to take it from there.”
Matthews flew the flag for Australia, coming off his green jersey at the Tour de France but found that he didn't quite have the legs to come over the top for the win.
“I had a lot of confidence coming into the race today but unfortunately the legs weren’t as good as I would have liked,” said Matthews after the finish.
“I carried on training this week after the Tour and stayed focused in preparation for today. My goal was to attack on the climbs but I wasn’t able to make the difference. Some days you have bad days and I am still pleased to be able to finish third after a tough three weeks at the Tour.”
As it happened
The 183-kilometre race started and finished in central London, but much of the ride took place on the hills of Surrey, with five short, steep climbs forming the main difficulty on the day.
Julien Duval (AG2R La Mondiale), Twan Castelijns (LottoNL-Jumbo), Mads Würtz Schmidt (Katusha), Wesley Kreder (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Iljo Keisse (Quick-Step Floors) formed the early break, moving clear as the race headed out of town. Their gap extended up to a maximum of four minutes before the peloton tightened the leash and gradually began pulling them back in, with Team Sunweb doing much of the work at the front.
Duval and Kreder were dropped, leaving a front trio of Keisse, Castelijns and Schmidt up the road. Their gap was down to two minutes with 90 kilometres to go and it continued to fall rapidly as the pack maintained a consistent pace over the undulating terrain around Surrey. The catch was made shortly after the Ranmore climb, but that only spurred further action in the bunch, with Sky moving to the front to put the pressure on.
A number of attacks resulted in a small group going clear, with Pete Kennaugh (Team Sky) jumping away with Trentin and Daryl Impey (Orica-Scott). Kennaugh dropped off the back of the move quite quickly, but he was replaced in the lead trio by Stuyven, who caught up on the next climb as the peloton regrouped behind.
The trio of Impey, Trentin and Stuyven never had much more than half a minute's advantage, but their gap remained relatively steady as the kilometres ticked down and the race headed back into central London and Impey fell off the pace with 15 kilometres remaining.
Trentin and Stuyven pressed on, and despite having a gap of only around 20 seconds, they made it all the way through the final corners only to be caught by a hungry peloton with a kilometre to go.
Bora controlled the sprint into the last few hundred metres, but Kristoff was well-placed only a few positions behind Bennett, and he quickly pulled level once Bennett opened his sprint. The Norwegian was better able to maintain his sprint and held off the fast finish of Nielsen to take the win.