After two disappointing years at UAE Team Emirates, Ben Swift will be back in familiar colours at Team Sky next season. The Yorkshire rider has no regrets over his decision to leave the British team in 2017 but admits that he had no hesitation when he was offered the chance to return on a one-year deal for 2019.
Swift departed Team Sky for UAE Team Emirates in the hope of proving himself as a team leader. He had enjoyed success at Team Sky but the demand for stage racing wins and the flurry of week-long and Grand Tour leaders meant that a one-day specialist and sprinter like himself was presented with few opportunities.
When UAE Team Emirates - a first-year team at the time - came knocking it was a case of now or never for the then 29-year-old. He signed a two-year deal towards the end of 2016 but a string of injuries, the language barrier and the new surroundings ensured that Swift struggled during his tenure on the new-look team. By the end of the current campaign it was clear that UAE Team Emirates were unwilling to extend his contract, and with few results to speak of, Swift was forced to evaluate his future. Somewhat luckily, Team Sky stepped forward.
"Everyone knows why I left Team Sky. There was a reason why I left and why I needed to try," Swift told Cyclingnews from his UK home.
"I was at a point in my career where I needed to see what was out there and if I could be better. For one reason or another it didn't work out, but fortunately I'm able to go back to Team Sky and be with a lot of guys that I know."
"I don't regret leaving Team Sky. I would have regretted it if I hadn't left because I wouldn't have known what was out there or what my ability would have been. The whole reason I left was to give myself opportunities but I am where I am, and luckily I'm back at Team Sky. I want to try and get to the level I was at before."
Slotting into a team role
While Team Sky were willing to offer Swift a reprieve, the harsh reality is that the same problems that urged Swift to leave in the first place are still present. In fact, they're possibly more acute than ever given that the British have found the formula to win Monuments, while their GC roster looks as stacked as ever.
However, Swift is willing to slip back into his old role of working for others and picking up his chances as and when they appear.
"Throughout my career I've tried to win races and I've always tried to be the best I can be, and that won't change, but I'll slot into that role where I'm happy to work for guys," he says.
There's no shame in that approach. After all it lead to two podium spots in Milan-San Remo and a dozen wins across races such as Pais Vasco, Tour Down Under and the Tour de Romandie. After struggling for two seasons and being on the fringes, Swift is simply grateful to be back in familiar surroundings.
"Deep down Team Sky was the place I wanted to be. People joke around and say I'm Team Sky through and through but for me that's the way I ride, and the attention to detail. I like that way of riding and training. I missed it while I was away, even though I enjoyed my time away. Hopefully, I'll slot back into my role but I've got my work cut out for me."
"I think I underestimated how important the background staff and team unity was. You can't really replicate that, and a lot of us had grown up together on the track and then at Team Sky. Maybe I made some mistakes in pushing too much and wanting it too much. I can have real confidence now in the background staff, whereas before I was trying to do everything. I'm looking forward to being a coach-led rider. I tried something, I tried to take more responsibility, but it just didn't work out."
"I'm actually better when I'm in more of a support role, and then taking those opportunities when they come. I wouldn't say the pressure got to me at UAE but it's just that with the way we work at Team Sky, I'm just in the best position possible. I accept that, and my place in cycling now, and I'll take those opportunities when they come my way."
Rider race programmes at Team Sky have yet to be defined, and made public, but the team will enjoy their first winter get-together on the island of Mallorca in the next couple of weeks. The camp will be Swift's first return to the team in two seasons and he's already looking to hit the ground running.
"I'll give the Opening Weekend a good go because that fits with a potential programme that I want to do," he suggested.
"And then we'll make a decision after that with regards to the rest of the cobbled Classics. We've got a strong team so my role would probably be based around the first half of the finales. We could decide after the Opening Weekend that I aim towards something else."