Tour Down Under stage 2: Swift by name, swift by nature
January 19, 2011 9 Comments
Team Sky‘s love affair with the Tour Down Under continued as Britain’s Ben Swift claimed victory on stage two. In their debut outing in 2010, Greg Henderson and Chris Sutton had respectively won the pre-race Cancer Council Classic and the final stage to give Sky their inaugural race victories. Today Swift lived up to his name, holding off what was left of the pack after heavy crashes in the closing stages and delivering Sky’s first win of 2011.
The 23-year old would normally be expected to serve as a lead-out man for Henderson or Sutton, but when the latter went down in a crash four kilometres from the finish he was free to compete for victory himself, and duly beat Robbie McEwen (RadioShack) and Graeme Brown (Rabobank) to the line by a bike length.
Yuriy Krivstov (AG2R), David Tanner (Saxo Bank-Sungard) and Mitchell Docker (Uni SA-Australia) slipped away early on, building a lead of over four minutes. They were later joined by Luke Roberts (Uni SA), Simon Zahner (BMC) and Timothy Roe (BMC), with Roberts seeking only to protect his lead in the King of the Mountains competition, after which he sat up. The other five were gradually reeled in by the peloton, with Roe the last to be caught with five kilometres to go.
It was shortly after this, at a tight left-hander just under 4km from the finish, that the first major crash occurred. With HTC-Highroad and Sky vying for position at the head of the pack, it appeared that Mark Cavendish was hit from behind, flinging him sideways off his bike. The ensuing chaos also unseated overnight leader Matthew Goss and sprinters Tyler Farrar and Chris Sutton, among others.
McEwen described the incident from his point of view after the finish:
They went down after the corner. There was just so much gravel on the sides of the road and after that particular left-hander there was actually gravel in the middle of the road. Somebody hit it with a front wheel and just went arse-up, took everyone down. It looked sickening – it looked horrible.
Cavendish, who finished nearly four minutes down with his kit shredded and bleeding from his shoulder and above his left eye (the latter requiring two stitches), shrugged off what had initially looked like a far more serious crash:
It was just a normal sprint crash. It always squeezes in, but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just hard when you have teams of eight riders [fighting for space]. There is no need to take too many risks – I wasn’t taking risks. Bike racing isn’t safe. It’s just one of them things.
Teammate Goss, who was fortunate escape with minor road rash, concurred when asked whether the crash had been caused by Sky squeezing them into the barriers:
They were on our right hand side we were on the inside. You know, it was nothing. It was just a bit of a racing thing you just bump handle bars and someone goes down. It’s nothing. Nothing deliberate or anything like that.
Sky were forced to switch their focus to Swift as what was left of the field lined up for the finish. McEwen tried to jump early, counting on the element of surprise, but Swift was able to respond and beat the 38-year old veteran by around one bike length.
Behind the leaders, Swift’s teammate Geraint Thomas crashed as two other riders tried to pass, nudging him off balance. Another dozen riders came down, including UniSA’s Bernard Sulzberger, who was forced to retire with a broken collarbone. Thomas needed six stitches in his elbow.
Swift was understandably ecstatic with his unexpected victory, which he added to stage wins at the Tour of Britain in 2009 and the Tour de Picardie last year:
It’s the biggest win of my career, without a doubt, but it all It felt a bit unreal to be honest because our plan changed three times in the final four kilometres. Fortunately we were all able to think on our feet though and everything turned out brilliantly. It’s incredible, to get it in a WorldTour event as well. I’m really surprised but really happy.
With Chris Sutton finishing over four minutes down and Greg Henderson reportedly still struggling after his Cancer Council Classic crash, Swift is now likely to become Sky’s de facto team leader for the overall.
McEwen’s second place was enough to put him in the race leader’s ochre jersey ahead of stage one winner Goss who, along with Swift, share the same aggregate race time as the veteran Australian.
I was gunning to win the stage and I went from quite a way out to try to spring the element of surprise through the inside at about 250m to go. Swifty came up with a really good lead-out and won the stage, so good on him. I managed to hold on for second and with the bonus seconds it’s a nice surprise to be leading.
Defending champion André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) avoided the crashes, but needed to overcome a puncture and a late bike change to stay in touch, four seconds behind the front three.
Tomorrow’s 129km stage from Unley to Stirling takes the peloton into the Adelaide Hills, culminating in a lactic acid-inducing uphill drag to the finish.
Tour Down Under highlights are being shown every evening on Sky Sports.
Stage 2 result:
1. Ben Swift (Sky) 3:27:44
2. Robbie McEwen (RadioShack) same time
3. Graeme Brown (Rabobank) s/t
4. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
5. Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) s/t
1. Robbie McEwen (RadioShack) 6:44:42
2. Matthew Goss (HTC-Columbia) same time
3. Ben Swift (Sky) s/t
4. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:04
5. Mitchell Docker (Uni SA-Australia) +0:04
Tour Down Under posts
- Robbie McEwen leads after crashes (news.theage.com.au)
- Ben Swift claims win for Team Sky on stage two of Tour Down Under as Mark Cavendish suffers crash (telegraph.co.uk)
- Swift lands Sky’s maiden 2011 win (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Swift triumphs as Cavendish crashes (guardian.co.uk)