Team Sky’s Ben Swift today took the biggest win of his career to date as crashes caused chaos in the closing kilometres of Stage 2 of the Tour Down Under from Tailem Bend to Mannum, with RadioShack’s Robbie McEwen finishing second to take the race leader’s ochre jersey from HTC-Highroad’s Matt Goss.
The British ProTeam’s Australian sprinter, Chris Sutton, was one of the riders involved in a big crash 4 kilometres from the end of the 146-kilometre stage, and with colleague Greg Henderson, still suffering the effects of a crash in Sunday's Cancer Council Classic out of contention, the decision was made for Swift to contest the sprint.
Another rider caught up in the crash that ended Sutton’s hopes was HTC-Highroad’s Mark Cavendish, a picture circulated on Twitter afterwards showing the Manxman with blood pouring from a nasty looking head wound, while Fly V’s Bernard Sulzberger was taken to hospital following a separate crash 100 metres from the line. Cavendish's crash meant that he lost almost four minutes on the GC.
Afterwards, the 23-year-old Swift, who moves up to third overall behind McEwen and Goss, said that "the plan today had been for everyone to ride for CJ [Sutton] but when he crashed we kept our lead-out going because Greg Henderson was there.
"We were right on the front in the final kilometre with Mathew Hayman leading the way, me in second and Geraint Thomas on my wheel, but I got the call from G with around 600m to go that Greg had dropped back and it would be me who was going for it," explained Swift, quoted on Teamsky.com.
"He hopped on Hayman's wheel and I got on G's and they took me right up until about 200m to go and then I just went for it. McEwen got a bit of a jump on me at first but that gave me something to run at and thankfully I was able to pull away at the end there.
"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," the Yorkshireman added.
Behind him, however, there was yet more drama as an other crash took out riders including his team mate, Thomas. "I couldn't believe that G had fallen because he was right there with 200m to go but I think someone must have rode straight into him after he'd peeled off in the sprint," said Swift.
"I've just seen him now and thankfully he's alright, but CJ is not so great and has a deep cut on his knee. He's a tough guy though and I'm confident he will be able to battle on."
McEwen, a former team mate of Swift at Katusha, said: “It’s nice to be in the lead. 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. I just hope everyone from the crash is alright.”
Asked whether he drew extra inspiration from riding for a new team, the Australian, quoted on the Team RadioShack website, said: “I’m always motivated. I think that’s something I’ve always been able to rely on throughout my career. I am always up to try and win and make the best of any situation. Especially with a new team it’s always good to impress them at the start and I’m just really, really motivated and enjoying my riding.”
Reflecting on the crashes that marred the closing kilometres, McEwen said: “There was bloody gravel everywhere on the sides of the road as well as a line of gravel in the middle of the road. We came out of a left-hand corner and someone hit that strip of gravel piled up in the middle and went down with others going over the top.
“I saw HTC guys fall and one guy ran right into the back of another guy’s neck. On a run-in like that they have to inspect the roads closely. It was so gravely; guys were slipping out all over the place. The finish wasn’t overly technical but it was purely the gravel that made it dangerous.”
Earlier in the stage, BMC Racing’s Tim Roe had bridged the gap to a three-man breakaway then launched a solo attack with 20 kilometres to go, but was brought back with 5 kilometres left as the sprinters’ teams looked to set their men up for what proved to be a crash-strewn end to the day’s racing.
Tomorrow’s Stage 3 takes the riders 129km from Unley to Stirling and although the closing three kilometres have a fairly flat profile, there’s some punchy climbs ahead of that, meaning that any sprinters currently near the top of the GC who manage to keep out of trouble at the front of the peloton and contest the finale will put themselves in the frame for the overall race victory.
With Sutton likely to be suffering following today's crash and Henderson not apparently racing at full throttle, it could now fall to Swift to take up the mantle as team leader for the rest of the race, and it's a role he admits he would relish.
"That would be a massive honour and I'd take it, for sure," said Swift. "That said, I don't mind dropping back and resuming my original lead-out role either. Whatever I have to do for the team, I'll do it.
"If I've got good legs, tomorrow's stage could be one that suits me but it looks set to be a really tough one because the temperatures are due to rise to around 36 degrees. We'll just have to see how it goes."
Santos Tour Down Under Stage 3 Result 1 Ben Swift Team Sky 03:27:44 2 Robbie McEwen Team RadioShack st 3 Graeme Brown Rabobank st 4 Romain Feillu Vacansoleil-DCM st 5 Jurgen Roelandts Omega Pharma-Lotto st 6 Francesco Chicchi Quickstep st 7 Michael Matthews Rabobank st 8 Denis Galimzyanov Katusha st 9 Francisco Ventoso Movistar st 10 Allan Davis Astana st Santos Tour Down Under Overall Standings after Stage 2 1 Robbie McEwen Team RadioShack 06:44:42 2 Matt Goss HTC-Highroad st 3 Ben Swift Team Sky st 4 Andre Greipel Omega Pharma-Lotto 4 secs 5 Mitchell Docker Uni SA st 6 Graeme Brown Rabobank 6 secs 7 David Stanner SunGard Saxo Bank st 8 Mathieu Perget AG2R La Mondiale 7 secs 9 Miguel Minguez Euskaltel-Euskadi st 10 Simon Zahner BMC st
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.