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Tour Down Under stage 2: Swift by name, swift by nature

Stage 2 – Tailem Bend to Mannum, 146km

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.

Britain's Ben Swift wins stage 2 after a series of crashes decimated the peloton (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

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.

McEwen said:

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

General classification:

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

Tour Down Under preview

Tour Down Under stage 1: Goss beats Greipel, Cavendish sits tight

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

9 Responses to Tour Down Under stage 2: Swift by name, swift by nature

  1. kittyfondue says:

    I love Robbie.

    • Tim says:

      He’s in good form right now, both on the bike and with a microphone pointed at him. Not a match for Greipel or a fit Cav, perhaps, but his experience and instinct may yet see him to a stage win in Adelaide. Also, RadioShack are still trying to work out how to do a decent lead-out, having never had a sprinter before, so that will no doubt develop over the next few months too.

      • kittyfondue says:

        He’s wiley, Tim, so I wouldn’t put anything past him. I would LOVE him to win the Tour Down Under.

        And I don’t think the fact that RadioShack are clueless with sprinters is a hindrance to him – I’ve never known him to have an effective lead-out train like Cav or Cippo. What does Paul Sherwen say, ‘he’s in his Harry Potter invisibility cloak’ – and just pops up unannounced in the middle of the bunch sprint. He’s a master at following other teams’ wheels …

        No Cav/Greipel fireworks yet … can’t wait for that!

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  3. Tim says:

    So far Robbie’s only really talking about a stage win. He’s targeting tomorrow, then he is likely to lose time on the two climbs of Willunga Hill near the end of Saturday’s stage.

    You’re right about his ability to follow wheels and attack at the right time. He is a master at that. As is Cav – something which many people had forgotten until Renshaw got disqualified at the Tour last year.

    Greipel not so much. He has always struck me as being more in the Cippo mode – nigh on unstoppable with a good lead-out, but perhaps a bit iffy tactically. Yet again today he complained about being boxed in inside the final half-kilometre. It seems to happen to him quite a lot when he doesn’t have someone to follow – one of the disadvantages of being so big, I guess, rather than a pocket rocket like Robbie or Cav.

    I suspect Cav will drop back now in support of Goss and not compete tomorrow.Stage five is too hilly for him, but maybe the final stage. Greipel looks a bit down on power too – both Goss (in the form of his life) and Matthews have powered away from him with ease so far. I’ve made a few observations around that point in my summary of today’s stage – I’ve just noticed that Anthony Tan over on VeloNews has done the same thing (but in more detail than I have done).

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