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Tour of California 2011:

Team Sky’s Ben Swift outsprints world-class field Sacramento to take leader’s jersey

Ben Swift has won the opening stage at the Tour of California with a withering burst that left the opposition for dead in Sacramento.

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Swift by name, swift by nature: Team Sky's British sprinter at the Tour of California blew away his rivals

The Team Sky train set up Swift perfectly at the end of the shortened 122.8-kilometre stage and he did the rest, beating Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale and HTC-Highroad’s designated spriter Matt Goss.

It was the fifth major win of the season for Britain’s most successful road racer this season after previously winning two stages at the Tour Down Under, one in Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, and another at the Tour of Romandy earlier this month. Given such form he is rapidly heading for a showdown with Mark Cavendish at this year’s Tour de France.

The stage, despite it being stage two, was in fact the opening stage of the eight-day stage race after heavy snow on Sunday saw stage one cancelled and even this stage had to be shortened with the snow still too deep to race in at the scheduled start in Squaw Valley. Swift, though, was unfazed and enjoyed the criterium-like finish in Sacramento where rain lashed down with two of the three laps to go.

“It was absolutely perfect. The team opened up the door for me,” said Swift who was lead out by Team Sky’s normal first choice sprinter Greg Henderson. “The team was absolutely unreal – it was fantastic. 100 per cent thank you to the team.”

“Hendy hasn’t raced since Scheldeprijs, and I’ve come off two wins in a month, so it was awesome.

“When I looked at the race, there were four of five stages where I thought I could do well, including yesterday. Unfortunately, we didn’t race on Sunday so there are three or four more left. The rain definitely helped. I grew up riding in the rain. It puts fear into some riders and it helped us control it.”

Swift has a realistic chance of defending his leader’s jersey in stage three, an undulating 196.2km stage between Auburn-Modesto, although the area is known for strong crosswinds and an escape might also fancy their chances.

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