WILMINGTON, Del. -- Even among his peers, Stephen Swart is obscure. He often has to introduce himself to other cyclists who either mistake the 26-year-old New Zealander for someone else or who have no idea in LeMond who he is.
"I walked past Phil Anderson the other day and he didn't recognize me at first," Swart recalled yesterday. "Then he turned around and said, 'Hey, I know you.' "
Swart's visibility grew a little more yesterday in the prologue to the Tour Du Pont. His time of 6 minutes, 23.18 seconds over the 3.1-mile course placed Swart third in the field and helped his team, Coors Light, to an impressive opening-day showing.
Though his time was later eclipsed by two internationally renowned riders, Holland's Erik Breukink (6:20.82) and Canada's Steve Bauer (6:22.35), it enabled Swart to move into early contention in the 11-stage, 1,100-mile race. The second stage will be held here today, with Stage 3 scheduled to finish tomorrow in Columbia.
"You want to win [the prologue] and you don't want to win," said Coors Light manager Len Pettyjohn while Swart was holding onto first place. "You don't want to be in the [yellow] jersey. Then you really get hammered."
Swart was mildly surprised by his time, considering how little he has trained in the past two months. It would be understanding if his mind, not to mention his heart, was a world away. His wife, Jan, is due to have their second child Monday in New Zealand.
But his American teammates -- Swart is one of two foreigners on the Boulder, Colo.-based Coors Light team -- weren't shocked at all. "We had a six-hour ride in the mountains Monday, and he was killing us," said former Olympic bronze medalist Davis Phinney, who placed seventh yesterday. "I told him, I'll be really impressed if you do that against the Europeans."
While Swart enjoys his anonymity in the United States, it is a different story back home. In a country in the midst of a cycling boom, he is part of its most prominent racing family, following in the tire tracks of his older brother Jack.
But Jack Swart never ventured past the amateur ranks onto the international circuit. The younger brother came out from his big brother's shadow when he won the Tour of New Zealand last fall. He won three criteriums in the United States last year.
Whether Swart has the same success in his sport that two of his country's most esteemed athletes, miler John Walker and golfer Bob Charles, had in theirs, is yet to be measured. But the Tour Du Pont might be a start.
He was in eighth place after the ninth of 13 stages in last year's event, then called the Tour de Trump, but a combination of miserable weather and a bronchial condition forced Swart to pull out in New Paltz, N.Y.
"I'm in much better shape this year," he said last night. "My goal today was a top 10 finish. Anything above that is a bonus."
It won't be enough to change his life, or his status in the cycling world. But when he lines up today, a few more people might know who Stephen Swart is. Even some of his peers.
NOTES: Greg LeMond, the three-time Tour de France champion who races for the French-based Z team, finished 35th (6:40.25). . . . The top American was Greg Oravetz of Huntington Beach, Calif., who came in fifth (6:28.15). The field was reduced to 15 teams when Mosoca of Switzerland failed to show. Breaukink's PDM teammate, Raul Alcala, won last year's prologue but is racing this week in Spain.