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Four days after taking third in Milan-Sanremo, Swift uses his powerful sprint to beat Mori and Caruso on the opening half-stage of the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali and become the first leader of the race

Photo: Sirotti

COPPI E BARTALI

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DAMIANO CARUSO

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MANUELE MORI

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TEAM SKY

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27.03.2014 @ 12:21 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ben Swift (Sky) continues to show off the excellent condition that netted him a third place in the recent Milan-Saremo after he won today's opening half-stage of the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali. The Brit survived the climbs on the route that whittled down the front group to just around 50 riders and then made use of his fast sprint to beat Manuele Mori (Lampre-Merida) and Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) in the battle for the first leader's jersey in the four-day race.

 

Four days ago Ben Swift took the biggest result of his career when he finished 3rd in Milan-Sanremo and today he brought a winless streak that goes back to the 2012 Tour de Pologne to an end. The fast Brit survived the climbing in today's opening half stage of the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali before using his sprinting prowess to take his first victory of the season.

 

As it has been the case in recent years, the four-day Italian race opened with a short 99.5km half-stage around the city of Gatteo that sent the riders up two climbs at the midpoint of the race before heading down the final 34.9km back to the start and finishing city. With several teams riding hard up the slopes, the peloton splintered on the final climb and when the dust had settled a 50-rider group emerged at the front.

 

With Swift having made the selection, Team Sky were keen to keep the move going and the British team took the responsibility to keep the hard-chasing peloton at bay. The day's biggest favourite, Elia Viviani, had missed the split and so Cannondale were riding hard in the main group.

 

The race evolved into a fierce battle between Sky and Cannondale and even though the latter seemed to have the upper hand as the gap constantly went down, they failed to make the junction in time for the sprint finish. Hence, it was all set to be decided in a sprint from the front group and with most of the fast finishers all back in the peloton, Swift was the man to beat.

 

The Brit didn't disappoint and paid back his teammates for their hard work when he beat Manuele Mori and GC rider Damiano Caruso into the minor positions. The result allows him to head into the afternoon's second half-stage as the race leader as he has a two-second advantage over Mori.

 

Swift's jersey defence will be a tough proposition as the race continues later today with a 13.3km team time trial. As it was the case last year, the format will be slightly different as the 8-rider teams are split into two and so the stage will be contested by 4-rider teams, two from each team. The stage is mostly flat and only slightly uphill in the second part and should suit the powerful teams.

 

A tricky stage

In recent years, the Settimana Coppi e Bartali has kicked off with a short 99.5km half-stage starting and finishing in Gatteo and the same stage was again planned for this year's opening day. After a flat start, the riders went up the Sogliano al Rubicone and Torre di Massamanente climbs at the midpoint of the stage while the race ended with a 34.9km downhill and flat run-in back to Gatteo.

 

Even though the stage usually comes down to a sprint from a reduced group, the climbs at the midpoint meant that an escape might have had a chance. Hence, the race was off to a very fast start, with several riders launching repeated attacks in both sides of the roads.

 

Cannondale and Novo Nordisk were especially active but at the first passage of the finish line after 18km of racing, no one had managed to escape. The attacking didn't stop though and the peloton didn't slow down either and so the riders got to the 37km mark before a group finally escaped.

 

Duber Quintero (Colombia), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport), Takashi Miyazawa (Vini Fantini), Simone Antonini (Marchiol), Viesturs Luksevics (Amore e Vita), Mirko Tedeschi (Idea), and Emanuel Kiserlosvki (Meridiana Kamen) were allowed to go clear and they had a 2.35 gap after 45km of racing. The peloton took a short breather while preparing for the climbs but MTN-Qhubeka quickly assumed responsibility for the chase and at the 51km mark, the gap was already down to 2 minutes.

 

Tedeschi beat Kiserlovski and Luksevics at the top of the first climb while Sky now started to make things harder for the pure sprinters, bringing the gap down to 1.30. Up ahead, Quintero and Tedeschi made an attack and built up a 20-second gap before being brought gap.

 

On the second climb, the race really came alive. Miyazawa and Van Hecke fell off the pace in the front group while Mauro Finetto (YellowFluo) attacked from the peloton. Van Hecke managed to rejoin the leaders while Finetto started to approach the front group.

 

Back in the peloton, the hard tempo caused the bunch to split into several pieces and halfway up the climb, only 19 riders remained in the main group that was now only 30 seconds behind. Meanwhile, Tedeschi made an attack to crest the summit 12 seconds ahead of his chasers that had again dropped Van Hecke.

 

On the descent, Tedeschi was brought back into the fold while Finetto made the junction, meaning that a 6-rider group had formed with a 46-second gap over the peloton. In the peloton, several riders had rejoined the group, meaning that a 50-rider group assembled in pursuit of the leaders.

 

Sky rode hard on the front while the peloton led by Cannondale was 1.40 behind with 25km to go. With the escapees now less than 10 seconds ahead, Quintero, Luksevics and Antonini took off but 17km from the finish, all escapees were back in the fold.

 

At that point the gap to the peloton was still 1.40 but it now started to come down. Under the impetus of Cannondale and later also Topsport Vlaanderen, it dropped to 54 seconds 10km from the finish.

 

7km from the line it was only 25 seconds and it seemed that it could all come back together but Sky refused to give up. At the 5km to go mark, the gap was still 20 seconds and when it had even grown to 22 seconds 2km further up the road, it was clear that the winner would be one from the front group.

 

In the end, Swift paid pack his team for their hard work when he held off Mori and Caruso to take his first win of the season.

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