Swift: I was brought to this team for Milan-San Remo

Briton takes aim at the Via Roma

When Ben Swift left Team Sky at the end of 2016, the principal reason for joining UAE-Team Emirates was to have more opportunities to race for himself in cycling’s biggest races.

On Saturday, Swift will have his first taste of leadership in Milan-San Remo, a race in which he has finished twice on the podium in the last three years. The 29-year-old may not be an out-and-out favourite to win but his pedigree in the race is undoubted and, for the first time in his career, a team has come out and backed him as its leader.

“I was brought into this team to perform in San Remo, what with the results that I’ve had there over the years,” Swift told Cyclingnews at Paris-Nice, his final tune-up race before Saturday’s main event.

“We’ve a nice spread-out team and it’s a bit different to Team Sky, with a lot more opportunities and freedom. We don’t have to sit on the front and ride the whole time.”

That point was obvious during Paris-Nice, as Swift watched on while his ex-teammates toiled on the front of the peloton to help set up Sergio Henao for the overall victory. Twelve months ago, Swift would have been asked to perform a similar role, but this time around he could pick and choose his moments in the ‘Race to the Sun’. Unfortunately, not too many of the stages suited his style, although he did pop up with two top-15 finishes and a day in a break.

“I’ve had some mixed results at this race,” he admitted. “The first few days were quite hard and I was a bit unlucky with having a puncture on the first day. That dropped me out of the first group and there’s not much that you can do in that situation. I was in the mix the day after but the general condition is pretty good.

“The build up to Milan-San Remo has gone well. I’ve had a bit of a different programme with a bit less racing. That’s meant I’ve focused more on training. The winter went well and I’m happy.”

Having found some stability in recent weeks after a less than ideal start to life at the team due to questions over funding, Swift has been able to prepare for Milan-San Remo in relative calm. It would be wrong, however, for him to pinpoint all his Spring hopes on one race, especially one as unpredictable as Milan-San Remo.

“I always use it as a goal and as a target. It’s the first major hit of the year but as I’ve said in the past, I can name twenty other people who are doing the exact same thing. Not everyone can win, be on the podium or even make the top ten. You need a lot of luck on your side in that race. I’m one of the favourites but I’m not the favourite. There’s Gaviria, Cavendish, Sagan, Kristoff, and Degenkolb – a lot of really big names who target San Remo.”

With that in mind Swift will have a number of other objectives before the summer, when he is likely to ride the Tour de France for the first time since 2011.

“What you get from targeting the race is good form. There are a lot of races around Milan-San Remo where you can try and get results. Even though it’s important to get a result in San Remo, there are other races in the spring where I can do well.”

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