Ben Swift suffered a painfully narrow defeat in the Giro d’Italia here on Sunday, with German sprint star Marcel Kittel powering past the Rotherham rider at the last possible moment to claim his second straight stage win.
Swift benefited from a near-faultless lead-out from Sky team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen as he sprinted towards the line in Dublin’s Merrion Street in the Giro’s third and final stage in Ireland.
But the superiority of the German rider was such that he drew level with Swift with five to 10 metres to go – in bunch sprints, a distance covered in fractions of seconds – and then opened up a gap of half a bike length by the line.
It had been a huge effort for Kittel, and he remained lying on the ground for several minutes after the stage. But to be able to win with such a devastating late acceleration confirms that he is in almost unbeatable form – or as Giro leader Michael Matthews said afterwards: “Right now Kittel is the fastest rider in the world.”
To lose to Kittel – who won four bunch sprints in last year’s Tour de France – was no disgrace, as Swift, winner of a stage in the Tour of the Basque Country this spring, pointed out. “I’m pretty happy. It would obviously have been nice to win, but to lose so close to the line, it shows how quickly he was coming because he beat me by almost a bike length in the end.”
Seventh behind Kittel on Saturday’s stage into Belfast, Swift was able to benefit from what he called “a brilliant job” by his Sky team-mates in the build-up to the finale. “We knew it was a tough finish and quite technical, but the guys did an amazing job,” he said. “Bernie [Eisel] was protecting me all the way and then Edvald did an amazing job into the finish.”
After today’s rest day and transfer back to Italy, Swift’s opportunity to turn the tables could come tomorrow on a flat stage into Bari.