On paper, it was a relatively innocuous stage with a fairly simple run-in to the finish; just a few banks to the left and right in the final 1,800 meters.
But the second stage of the Santos Tour Down Under turned out to be anything but ordinary.
Among a cacophony of casualties were marquee sprinters Mark Cavendish (HTC-High Road) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo), hitting the asphalt deck on a day that will be remembered as much for its calamity as the surprise stage win from Team Sky’s Ben Swift.
It was a virtual hairpin corner 3,875 meters from the finish in Mannum that caused the first serious collision – Cavendish was the first to go down on the 150-degree turn from Dollard Avenue to Gass Road. The prolific winner of fifteen stages at the Tour de France appeared to be T-boned by a rider behind him, catapulting him sideways onto the tarmac where he writhed on the ground in pain, his helmet pushed off his head.
Cavendish’s crash led to a number of other riders falling off albeit not as badly, including Farrar and his team-mates Cameron and Travis Meyer, Chris Sutton (Team Sky), and Jurgen Van De Walle (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Taking some time to remount, Cav’ finally got going again and finished the stage 3:47 down, five seconds behind Van De Walle, Travis Meyer and Farrar; his cut above his left eye requiring a few stitches by day’s end.
And that wasn’t the end of it.
Less than 100 meters from the line, on a casual left-hander that was barely a bend, British road champion Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), who, along with team-mate Mathew Hayman, was leading out Swift in the final kilometer, was the first to come down as two riders tried to move past his inside, bumping him off his line and bike.
Given the speed the bunch was travelling – estimated to be close to 70 kilometers an hour – Thomas’ crash created a domino of disaster, sending a further dozen men flying off their machines including Bernard Sulzberger (UniSA-Australia), who was transported to hospital with a suspected broken collarbone.
Thomas, bruised and grazed but not seriously hurt, even found a joke inside him at the end of the day: “If (Ben) Swifty hadn’t won I’d be kickin’ his arse right now.”
The consequence of Greg Henderson and Sutton’s crashes (on separate days) may lead to Swift, clearly in deft touch, elevated to a sprint leadership role in the coming days. “That would be a massive honor and I’d take it, for sure,” Swift told teamsky.com.
“If I’ve got good legs, tomorrow’s stage (Stage 3 to from Unley to Stirling) could be one that suits me but it looks set to be a really tough one because the temperatures are due to rise to around 36 degrees (Celsius). We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Courses may be simple but bunch sprints? Those never are.