It’s all about perspective. When Ben Swift (Team Sky) placed third at Milan-San Remo two years ago, it was welcomed as an important step in the Englishman’s development. Speaking in the mixed zone after placing second behind Arnaud Démare (FDJ) on the Via Roma on Saturday afternoon, one sensed that Swift was still weighing up in his own mind whether the glass was half full or half empty.
“Yeah, I think it’s a harder feeling really. At the moment I kind of feel… not flat, but not overjoyed, because second place is perhaps one of the worst places you can finish,” Swift said. “But I’m happy to be back on the podium. Arnaud Démare’s a fantastic sprinter and to get second to him is… we’ll keep trying.”
Swift lined out as part of a strong Sky unit that set out from Milan with Paris-Nice winner Geraint Thomas, former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski and Ian Stannard among its race of attacking options. The Yorkshire man, meanwhile, was designated to follow the wheels and save his energy – as best as one could in a race of 300 kilometres – for the sprint on the Via Roma.
Despite losing Thomas and Pete Kennaugh to a crash at the base of the Cipressa, Sky succeeded in implementing its game plan. Stannard forged up the road with Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) on the Cipressa, and then Kwiatkowski opened a gap at the top of the Poggio and led on the plunge down the other side.
“We wanted to make it an attacking race and we had a super strong team,” Swift said. “Unfortunately Geraint Thomas and Pete Kennaugh were taken down in one of the crashes so that was a lot of firepower that we lost there, really. But we wanted to try to attack and Michal Kwiatkowski did a brilliant job in the finale, he put a lot of pressure on the guys to chase.”
Indeed, as Kwiatkowski snaked down the Poggio, it briefly appeared as though he might have conjured up a win on the same stamp as his triumph in the Ponferrada Worlds, only for the race to come back together as the road flattened out in San Remo.
“My goal was to attack on the Poggio and be first on the descent, and even to be solo, but we all knew that it's better to have someone in the front like me and then have Swift waiting in the back for the sprint,” Kwiatkowski said. “That worked out pretty much.”
The dash for the line on the Via Roma is, by its very nature, a chaotic one and that was even more the case this time around. Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep) crashed just as the sprint was about to begin, and then Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) suffered a mechanical problem as he was about to hit full speed.
Amid the tumult, Swift kept his cool as so many about them were losing theirs. He found himself on the wheel of Démare in the final 200 metres, but was unable to come around the Frenchman and had to settle for second.
“Everything was perfect. I stayed as hidden as possible, I didn’t do anything. I think the only time you’d have seen me was in the last 200 metres, which was what I wanted to do really,” Swift said.
“I think I played it really calm in the finish. Last year I was really nervous and I wasted a lot of energy and I paid for that. Luckily I just avoided the crash with Gaviria and other than that, there wasn’t anything else I could have done really. I’ll have to watch it back and see.”
Swift returns to action at the Volta a Catalunya on Monday, where his primary duty will be to ride in the service of Chris Froome. Opportunities to ride for victory are not always plentiful in a team with so many options, but Swift will be sustained, no doubt, by dreams of his next outing in La Primavera.
“I was third in 2014, 13th last year and second this year,” Swift said. “Obviously to get second is one of the worst places to get because you’re so close to victory. But I’m kind of happy. I’m second to Arnaud Démare who’s a brilliant sprinter. I think this shows that it’s a race for me, with the results I’ve had in this race so hopefully I’ve got a few more years to keep trying.”