Ben Swift managed to stay with the frontrunners during the challenging penultimate stage of the Tour Down Under, and ended the day in 10th position after Francisco Ventoso had outsprinted Michael Matthews and Matt Goss for victory.
The 131km trek from McLaren Vale to Willunga had long been billed as the queen stage of the tour and didn't disappoint with the fireworks beginning almost as soon as the riders had crossed the start line.
Eventually an eight-man break wrestled themselves clear of the bunch and held a two-and-a-half minute advantage as they passed the halfway point of the day.
Garmin-Cervélo and HTC-Highroad were keeping a close eye on proceedings though, and the leaders were hauled back soon after they had commenced their first of two runs up Old Willunga Hill.
Luke Roberts was the first rider to crest that infamous climb, but with Team Sky also taking up chase duties, the peloton was back together by the time they had looped back around to attack it again.
Richie Porte, Ben Hermans and Jack Bobridge pushed the pace hard on the second ascent, and their efforts split the field to shreds with the likes of André Greipel, Robbie McEwen and Allan Davis all left struggling, but Swift, Michael Rogers and Simon Gerrans all remained in touch with an elite group of 21 riders as they pressed back into the destination town.
Despite Swift's best efforts, it was Ventoso who proved the fastest sprinter on the day, and Goss's third-placed finish could yet prove decisive as the four bonus seconds he picked up cut the gap back to race leader Cameron Meyer (who finished 13th) to just eight.
Swift's performance meanwhile, saw him move up to sixth place in the overall standings, 18 seconds off the pace.
Yates hails effort
Sean Yates was impressed with effort his riders had shown on a difficult day in the saddle and insists Team Sky will continue battling on to the very end in what should be a thrilling finale in Adelaide.
He said: "We'd been looking for Ben to contest the intermediate sprints today but the break was allowed to go early in the day and that scuppered his chances in that respect.
"He was still feeling good on the second approach to Willunga Hill though, so we drilled it hard to eliminate André, Robbie and the other guys who were finding the going tough.
"Michael and Simon both worked brilliantly to do that and Swifty was still there with them in that group of 21 riders. Unfortunately he didn't quite have the legs at the end there though compared to Ventoso, Matthews and Goss."
"In terms of how the race is shaping up overall, it's all up for grabs for Goss tomorrow because there's 16 seconds available and he's a much faster finisher than Meyer.
"Meyer is highly unlikely to pick up any points, but he does have Tyler Farrar in his camp though, and he'll be looking to take some of those bonus seconds tomorrow, I'm sure.
"It's going to be a huge task for Swifty to try and crash that party and go for a second stage win, but Geraint (Thomas) and Greg (Henderson) should both be fresh to support him so you can't rule him out.
"Obviously, being a man down doesn't help us, but we'll definitely be giving it a go and hopefully Swifty will climb even further up the standings."
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