Team Sky tried to take on Mark Cavendish and Etixx-Quick-Step in the sprint on stage 1 of the Dubai Tour, confirming that the British team intends to target many more sprint finishes in 2015 after signing Elia Viviani, Andy Fenn and ensuring than Ben Swift is back to his best and well supported.
Viviani finished third behind Cavendish and Andrea Guardini (Astana) after the 145 kilometres of steady racing on day one in Dubai. The men in black tried to out-manoeuvre Cavendish in the high-speed sprint but the Manxman and his precious last man Mark Renshaw stayed in control and put them to the sword. In what is likely to be a season-long battle between the two super teams, it is one-nil to Etixx-Quick-Step for now.
“Today was a pretty tranquillo day. There was a bit of stress for the wind which wasn't really a wind but it was pretty good in the peloton,” he said summing up the stage succinctly before talking about the sprint.
“Cav had a good train which was mixed with ours. I was on Cav's wheel, with Swift ahead of me. Cav went early but produced a good sprint, leading it out. I tried to take him on but I lost.”
“I think it's a good third place to start things off here in Dubai,” he added, trying to be positive despite being unhappy about losing.
Swift thinking about overall success
For now, Viviani seems to be Team Sky's protected sprinter, with Swift on last man duty. Here at the Dubai Tour he also has a chance of overall victory and so jumped away to win the late intermediate sprint, 16km from the finish and bag the three bonus seconds. Despite finishing 29th on the stage, he is fourth overall, seven seconds behind Cavendish.
“It was a kind of side plan,” the Yorkshireman told Cyclingnews as he waited to go on the podium to collect the white, green and black sprints jersey.
“We decided that if we didn't have to do too much work, we'd go for it, because races like this often come down to little margins. No one knows what the climb to the finish on stage three is like. It might be too hard but if I've got a few seconds in hand, it might make a difference. It's a bit of forward thinking.”
Swift had no problem praising Cavendish after his victory. “They deserved it today. They rode all day on the front of the peloton and controlled it,” Swift said.
“We had the plan to go with Elia, that was the plan all day. I think we did well together. We didn't get blocked, we were just in the rough zone. We merged with Etixx-Quick-Step and Andy [Fenn] got on Renshaw's wheel and I got on Cav's wheel. I knew that we needed to hit out early but Renshaw is so good at lead-outs and controlled things. I went early to force him to go long. But he held it all the way to the line.”
Swift confirmed that Team Sky is still working on its sprinting strategy, using every opportunity to work on trains, lead-outs and tactics.
“It's going to take a while to get it dialled down but were happy with where we're at,” he said.
“We're not a new team for the sprints but we'd gone away from it after the early years of the team and we rightly focused on the GC in stage races and Grand Tours. Now we're focusing on sprints again. Hopefully things will pay off soon.”
Swift is hoping Team Sky's hard work pays off on March 22, the date of Milan-San Remo, the first big Classic of the season and a race that suits him perfectly. Swift was third on his debut in La Classicissima last year behind Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing). That performance came after his 2013 season had been ruined by a shoulder injury and the 22-year-old is hopeful that he can progress still further in 2015.
“We know Milan-San Remo is my first big target,” Swift said. “I wanted to hit the season running strongly and I think I have. I had a solid winter with no injuries, no hick-ups and no operations to get over. I'm hopeful that I can do well.”
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