Swift recovered from a near crash within the final 20km of the third stage to Dublin and was set-up beautifully by Sky teammates on the technical finish in which Edvald Boasson Hagen guided the peloton through a chicane inside the last 500m.
The 26-year-old led down the home straight with Kittel, who previously lost position on a narrow stretch, not in the mix. However, the points leader made up some 10 lengths in the dying moments to catch Swift, who had already started his sprint, and then surpass him right before line.
“I thought I had it but Marcel was just going so fast in the end,” Swift said immediately after the 187km race.
“I had to have a bike change with about 15K to go. I nearly crashed. My bar slipped and it was a scary moment, so I’m pretty happy. Obviously it would be nice to win but to lose so close to the line shows how quick he was coming because he beat me by half a bike length in the end.
“It was a headwind sprint so I was waiting and waiting and yeah……. To lose against Kittel, I’m not too disappointed.”
Sky has sent an opportunistic team to the Giro, instead of a general classification orientated squad, so Swift has more winning chances ahead. The outfit was originally to be built around title hopeful Richie Porte, who had to revise his race programme due to illness.
“When you change such a big player in the race it really changes the whole look of the team,” Sky’s head of performance operations Rod Ellingworth said. “What’s really exciting is that here we can race in a different way to what we normally race in.”
The in-form and increasingly versatile Swift showed promise in the first three stages of the event, which today moves to Italy. Tomorrow’s pan-flat fourth stage to Bari has Kittel’s name all over it though rival sprinters will be desperate to interrupt his consecutive winning streak.
“I think I almost attacked instead of sprinted,” Kittel said of his gallant birthday win. “That took a lot of energy and that’s why I was afterwards on the ground and had to take some rest.”
Swift and maglia rosa Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) have all but admitted Kittel is unbeatable in pure bunch sprints though will surely aim to drop the 26-year-old and his Giant-Shimano team during the more undulating stages that present this week.