Team Sky sprinter Ben Swift claimed his first major win of the season after surviving a crash-marred finale at the end of the second stage of the Tour Down Under on Wednesday.
Swift was one of the few sprinters to emerge unhindered in the final few hundred meters of the 146-kilometer stage from Tailem Bend to Mannum after a series of late spills caused mayhem in the peloton.
Swift finished ahead of Australian pair Robbie McEwen (RadioShack), in second, and Rabobank’s Graeme Brown, who was third.
McEwen took the overall race leader’s ochre jersey from overnight leader Matthew Goss, who slipped to second overall with Swift moving up to third.
The Australian veteran, who has recently moved to the RadioShack team, said that winning a stage was still his priority.
“Obviously I’m happy to take the leader’s jersey, but my number one priority here is to win a stage,” said McEwen.
“Swifty rolled me, I just ran out of legs completely,” McEwen said. “I went kind of early to try and get the jump … but with all the carnage I had to come from quite a way behind. I tried for the win and came up just a little bit short.”
Swift admitted he had not been Team Sky’s designated sprinter, but after teammates CJ Sutton and Greg Henderson disappeared into the chaos he had no hesitation when asked by Geraint Thomas to give it his all.
“It’s incredible, to get (the win) in a WorldTour event as well, I’m really surprised but really happy,” said Swift.
Two-time overall champion Andre Greipel of Omega-Pharma avoided crashing, the German overcoming a flat in the final 6km ─ and a late bike change ─ to keep in contention in fourth at 4 seconds adrift.
“The plan today had been for everyone to ride for CJ, but when he crashed we kept our lead-out going because Greg Henderson was there.
“We were right on the front in the final kilometer with Mathew Hayman leading the way, me in second and Geraint Thomas on my wheel, but I got the call from G with around 600 meters to go that Greg had dropped back and it would be me who was going for it.
“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 kilometers. Fortunately we were all able to think on our feet though and everything turned out brilliantly.”
After seeing Goss add victory on stage 1 to Sunday’s win in a pre-race criterium, HTC-HighRoad was brought crashing down to earth.
Goss crashed in the final kilometers but only had scrapes to complain of as British teammate, star sprinter Mark Cavendish, came off much worse off with cut above his eye and scrapes over his body.
McEwen said he was sickened after seeing one HTC-HighRoad rider, believed to be Cavendish, being hit from behind.
“There was just so much gravel on the sides of the road and after one particular left-hand corner there was actually gravel in the middle of the road,” McEwen told AFP.
“Somebody hit it with a front wheel and just went arse-up, took everyone down. I don’t know if it was Gossy or Cav, I saw one of the HTCs go down and someone just ran straight into the back of their neck.
“It looked sickening, it looked horrible.”
Cavendish is expected to saddle up for Thursday’s third stage from Unley to Stirling. So far the only major casualty was UniSA rider Bernard Sulzberger, who has been ruled out with a broken collarbone.
Despite his own spill with 4km to race, Goss managed to get back in contention but was delayed further as more crashes ensued on the technically difficult finale.
In the end he finished 47th but in the same time as Swift to stay in contention.
Goss refused to blame the gravel or the route to the finish, noting that any “course is only as dangerous as the riders make it”.
“It’s hard to make sure everything’s spot on but if everyone’s paying attention it’s not too bad, but everyone seemed a little bit crazy today,” he said.