Britain’s Ben Swift won his first race of the season – and the first for a British rider – at the Tour Down Under today in Mannum, Australia. He benefited from Sky’s versatility and a crash involving fellow Brit Mark Cavendish.
“It comes down to strength in numbers,” Sky’s sports director, Shane Sutton explained. “Swift was up on [Geraint] Thomas’ wheel and he just benefited from the carnage behind him.”
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Sky had been leading out Chris Sutton to a win. However, he and Cavendish crashed with others with less than four kilometres to race in the 146.8-kilometre stage. At the same time, Sky’s Greg Henderson lost pace and a chance to sprint.
Henderson won pre-race criterium last year, but he is still suffering from his crash in this year’s criterium.
“With 500 metres to go, I was on [Matt] Hayman’s wheel, and then G [Thomas] came by and told me, ‘You sprint, you sprint,'” said Swift. “I just took the chance and it worked.”
Swift won ahead of experienced sprinters Robbie McEwen (RadioShack) and Graeme Brown (Rabobank).
British Champion Thomas, unfortunately, was hit by passing rider Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) after his lead out. He suffered scrapes, but will be able to continue.
“I am glad Swifty won,” said Thomas, “if he hadn’t, I’d be kicking his arse right now.”
Swift’s last big was was in his debut year with Katusha in 2009, when he won stage seven of the Tour of Britain. Last year, he won a stage and overall of the Tour of Picardie. His win today, though, is worth the most points-wise as the Tour Down Under is part the UCI’s top tier, the Worldtour.
“It’s incredible, to get it in a Worldtour event, as well,” said Swift. “I am really surprised and happy.”
He attributed his strength to arriving early in Australia to race the Bay Series criteriums and the Australian Championships.
“It just really set me up well,” Swift continued, “and I never came not January well going this well.”
“Given the injuries and setbacks last year, this just puts him back in,” added Shane Sutton. “He had some great results the year before with Katusha , this just puts him back to where he was after losing a year to injury.”
Sutton said that Swift may be Sky’s leader tomorrow (Thursday) for the stage to Stirling. Chris Sutton will be sore from the crash today and Henderson may not be fully recovered from his crash on Sunday.
The Tour Down Under ends on Sunday. Following the race, Swift will race the World Cup track round in Manchester and on the road with the British team at the Tour of Sardinia. He aims for the World Championships in at the end of March.
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