Strong start by Ben as Tour goes ‘crazy’

Geraint Thomas of Britain, wearing the best young rider's white jersey, leads the Sky Procycling team ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway, second right, during the second stage of the Tour de France cycling race, a team trial over 23 kilometers (14.3 miles) starting and finishing in Les Essarts, western France, Sunday July 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)
Geraint Thomas of Britain, wearing the best young rider's white jersey, leads the Sky Procycling team ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway, second right, during the second stage of the Tour de France cycling race, a team trial over 23 kilometers (14.3 miles) starting and finishing in Les Essarts, western France, Sunday July 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

As Tour de France debuts go Rotherham’s Ben Swift couldn’t have asked for much more from this weekend’s performance.

As Tour de France debuts go Rotherham’s Ben Swift couldn’t have asked for much more from this weekend’s performance.

He may have described his first 48 hours in the Tour as ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’ but as the dust settled on a successful two stages for his British-based Team Sky squad, Swift could reflect on a job well done.

Aged 23, Swift has been selected as much for his potential as for his stellar 2011 season. But sitting just 11 seconds behind yellow jersey wearer Thor Hushovd of Norway in 24th position, the Dinnington lad hasn’t been overawed by the sheer scale of the event.

He told The Star: “It’s far crazier than I expected. The whole thing is manic and insane. It’s amazing though.

“The noise is louder, there’s more people at the side of the road. No one in the peloton gives an inch, so it’s far harder than a normal race to move through the field.”

The Tour began on Saturday from the dramatic backdrop of the Passage du Gois tidal causeway on the Atlantic coast of France.

An early breakaway was pulled back and the opening stage looking to be heading for a relatively quiet finale before a fan strayed too close to the road and caused a pile up of bikes and lycra.

“I was literally one of the last people to get through,” said Swift. “Cav (Mark Cavendish) was next to me and it was like a tidal wave of riders falling towards us - one scraped Cav’s back but we just survived.”

Lucky thing he did too, because those caught up in the collision - including 2010 winner Alberto Contador - lost more than a minute in time to their rivals.

A further crash two kilometres from the finish line in Mont des Alouettes did hamper Swift, but not enough to prevent him ending the day just six seconds behind stage winner Philippe Gilbert of Belgium - a crash within 3km from the end means all those involved are given the same time.

Swift said: “Everyone was slamming on (the brakes). I managed to get out of my clips, jump off my bike and land on my feet.”

If quick reactions were needed on Saturday then yesterday was all about strength in the team time trial.

Sky were one of the favourites to win the 23km stage around Les Essarts and, in the process, put Wales’ Geraint Thomas in the yellow jersey.

Despite being quickest at the first check-point, Sky finished third, four seconds behind Garmin-Cervelo and a fraction of a second from second placed BMC.

“We’re pleased with how the time-trial went but a little disappointed we didn’t win it,” said Swift.

Today is the first true sprinting stage for Swift. The 198km into Redon in Brittany gives him a chance to test his legs against the likes of Cavendish and American Tyler Farrar.

He said he now knows what to expect: “It’s going to be crazy again. There will be a lot of carnage for sure.”