Ben Swift was expected to be among the protagonists of stage 5 of the Giro d’Italia to Viggiano, and the Team Sky rider duly delivered, even if it was with a surprise turn in the early break rather than as a player in the sprint finish.
On a day that saw the race buffeted by winds from the Ionian Sea as it trekked across southern Italy, Swift was part of an intriguing 11-man move that formed just over 20 kilometres into stage, with fellow fast men Elia Viviani (Cannondale) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) also aboard.
That trio enjoyed a keenly-contested intermediate sprint at Montalbano Jonico after 70 kilometres, where Swift took the decision ahead of Viviani and Farrar, and the Englishman’s decision not to relent immediately afterwards was an understandable one. As the best-placed rider in a break with a lead of five minutes, Swift was now in the virtual overall lead.
With the Orica-GreenEdge team of maglia rosa Michael Matthews the only chasers on the front of the bunch, it briefly appeared as though Swift might relieve him of that jersey, but the break’s gap began to tumble in the final 50 kilometres – a combination of reduced collaboration up front, and the added impetus of Katusha and BMC to the chase effort behind.
"I thought maybe we would stay away until the last lap or the last climb but once we started messing around in the group I never thought it was going to stick. We always knew it was going to come back," Swift told Cyclingnews on crossing the line almost twelve minutes down on winner Diego Ulissi, having been caught with 23 kilometres remaining.
A faller on the previous day’s contentious, rain-slicked finale in Bari, Swift reported for duty in Taranto still suffering from the effects of that crash. Yet in spite of an injury to his hip, Swift was alert to the moves at the beginning of the stage. "It was super sore this morning and then it was OK after we started," he said. "Then as the stage went on it got quite bad. It’s just in the hip flexor that it’s quite bad from falling and unclipping and stuff like that.
"But it turned out to be easy to get into the break so that’s why I did. It was quite windy out there – I maybe should have thought about sitting up after the sprint but by the sounds of it, it was just as hard at the back."
While the break’s collaboration was smooth initially, Swift knew that its odds of survival were limited once the Lotto-Belisol pair of Kenny Dehaes and Tosh Van der Sande attacked in turn in the final 40 kilometres. As the group’s cohesion shuddered to a halt, so too did any fleeting possibility of Swift taking the pink jersey, but in the absence of Marcel Kittel, who abandoned yesterday, the red jersey of points classification leader could now become an objective.
"It was a good sprint between Viviani and me actually and it’s looking more and more like that the red jersey is going to become a target now. We’ll keep tipping away and see how it goes," said Swift, who currently trails Viviani by 33 points in the standings.
"I’m happy with today because it wasn’t for nothing, but I’d like to have been there for Eddy [Boasson Hagen] in the finish because he supported me really well earlier on so that would have been nice to be there and help him there."
Thursday’s hilltop finish at Montecassino is a similarly difficult finale to categorise but Swift believes that the steady category two climb will ultimately prove too difficult for him. "I think it’s tougher than the finish today. It’s a category 2 finish and it looks quite steep at the bottom," he said. "It’s a long day tomorrow, but hopefully it won’t be as windy."