After a commanding last-lap leadout from Team Sky, 23-year-old Ben Swift launched off the wheel of teammate Greg Henderson to take his fifth stage win of the year. After the finish, the young man from Rotherham, England was quick to track down his teammates for bear hugs.
“The team was absolutely unreal,” Swift said. “100 percent thank you to the team. The guys [from other teams] went, but the guys just kept their cool, and delivered me perfect.”
With the stage from Nevada City wrapping up with three finishing circuits around the Sacramento capitol, the peloton was greeted with huge crowds and on-and-off rain.
“I grew up on the track and doing criterium races. The circuit was basically a large criterium course and it brought back good memories,” Swift said, adding that the rain didn’t bother the United Kingdom’s top team. “Coming from Britain, we always get rain, so I’m pretty used to it. It puts some fear into some people and helps you control it more.”
In the final stretch on flat straight road, Mathew Hayman wound up the speed, with Ian Stannard and then Henderson executing a textbook leadout.
Henderson is a strong sprinter in his own right, of course, having won a stage at Paris-Nice this year in addition to past victories like a Vuelta a España stage and a track worlds gold medal in the scratch race.
But Henderson hasn’t raced since Schedleprijs in Belgium in early April, and Swift is on fire, so Team Sky set up their leadout train for Swift.
Swift said Sky director Bobby Julich showed faith in him this week, telling him he would be protected for the sprints along with Henderson.
Julich’s faith obviously paid off with a big win for the man teammates call Swifty.
Swift’s road career took off in 2009 when he jumped to the big leagues in 2009 with Katusha. Prior to that, he had ridden for the British squad Recycling.co.uk and he had also enjoyed success in the junior and U23 leagues in track and on the road. He placed fourth in the U23 road worlds, for example.
Swift joined Sky last year, and went on to win the Tour de Picardie overall and the best young rider award and the points jersey.
This year, Swift has been on a tear. He won two stages of the Tour Down Under en route to third overall in January. Since, he’s won stages of Castilla y León, the Tour de Romandie and now the Tour of California.
His teammates enjoy his company, too. “Not only is Swifty quick but he is also a good teammate and thoughtful guy,” said Sky’s Michael Barry. “He is versatile as he can climb reasonably well which often gives him more opportunities at victories than most sprinters might have. Overall, he’s a good down-to-earth guy who everybody respects.”
Sacramento has seen a number of the sport’s top names win California stages over the years, including Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish, Fabian Cancellara (in the prologue time trial) and JJ Haedo. Now Swift is among such company.
“It was awesome,” Swift said of the final gallop to the line. “[Kevin LaCombe] from SpiderTech came up from the right, but I had a pretty long sprint, and I felt pretty good.”