By Gregor Brown
Team Sky's Ben Swift took charge on the road to San Remo today, along the wet coast leading to the finish. He agreed with team mate Edvald Boasson Hagen that he would go for the sprint and placed third behind winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) giving Great Britain its best result in Milan-San Remo since Mark Cavendish's win in 2009.
"I had good legs to day and just felt better and better as the race went on," Swift said at the finish. "On the Poggio climb, I waited for the attacks to come but I think the weather got to a lot of people."
The cold winds blew off the Italian Riviera to bring temperatures down to 12°C. Only Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) launched an attack on the Cipressa climb ahead of the Poggio. He picked up the early escapees and led solo until nine kilometres to race. The group with sprinters like Cavendish neutralised the rest of the attacks.
'Swifty' relied on Salvatore Puccio and Edvald Boasson Hagen to bring him to the line. The team gave him the chance – a big one in his first participation – to go for the win.
"After a day like today it was up to them to decide who had better legs in the cold," said sports director, Dario Cioni. "The decision happened naturally. I told them to speak before the Poggio, which made the selection naturally."
"Salvatore Puccio was amazing. He was committed. He had good legs but he committed to helping me and Edvald," Swift added. "He helped bring Nibali back and then set the tempo on the Poggio. It was a great team effort. Me and Eddie talked a lot coming into the finale and so we had a clear plan. It worked out pretty well."
Swift spoke in the mixed zone along the waterfront. Waves crashed behind him. The wind had brought rain and cold temperatures to the 294-kilometre race from Italy's business centre to the Riviera.
André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) said that he had a problem with his chain. John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) waved good-bye due to a flat tyre. Cavendish sprinted to fifth but said that his legs were too tired to do more. However, Swift maintained something for the final kick behind winner Kristoff and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).
"I got a little bit boxed in the sprint but I'm happy to get on the podium," Swift said.
"I'd like to win this race. I think Milan-San Remo is suited to my characteristics. It's the first time I've ever ridden Milan-San Remo and get that first experience. To get on the podium in my first ride is pretty amazing."
Britain's Ben Swift (Sky) places third behind Alexander Kristoff and Fabian Cancellara in Milan-San Remo 2014
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