A year after Chris Froome won the Rua del Sol outright, after the three stages so far, Team Sky once again have taken command of the early season Spanish stage race. However this time the top spot is in the hands of Froome’s teammate Ben Swift, in what represents another step in the right direction for the Briton following his injury blighted 2015.
Eleventh in the opening stage in Sevilla, third in Cordoba on stage two and then second in Padul’s finish on Friday, as the more out-and-out sprinters have suffered, Swift’s speed consistency on increasingly difficult stages has enabled the 28-year-old to take his first race lead since the Settimana Coppi e Bartali last year. As an added bonus, the Team Sky rider has also scooped up the top spot in the points competition.
“It was a hard stage, the last climb was bloody steep in places,” Swift told Cyclingnews as he weaved his way through waves of spectators towards the winner’s podium.
“And then in the sprint, we took control, the guys [Sky teammates] did a really good job. It all started and I came round, but I got a bit tangled up with [Jay] McCarthy [Tinkoff] in the finish”- the Australian was lead-out man for stage winner and teammate Oscar Gatto - “and that took my speed a little bit, and then Gatto just came up a bit faster. It would have been nice to have won, obviously, but we’ll keep trying.”
The 29-year-old says his form is, “really good and I’ve slowly been getting better and better. I had a completely different winter this year. I did my training in South Africa and then in Australia. It’s been really good, but I didn’t do any top end training until January and I really noticed that in [the Tour] Down Under.”
That said, Swift still took an encouraging three top ten places in bunch sprints in the Australian season opener, including a second in the windswept stage to Victor Harbor behind overall winner Simon Gerrans, before taking part in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, finishing eighth behind teammate Pete Kennaugh, and then the Dubai Tour. “Each race so far, has been getting better and better and better,” Swift added. “So hopefully we can continue the progression.”
Fast looming on the horizon is Milano-San Remo, where Swift took third in 2014, but when it comes to La Primavera the Team Sky rider is cautious about nailing his colours to the mast. “It’s not my out and out target, but obviously I’ve proven that I can go well there in the past. It’s obviously a goal, but I just want to put last year” - when he broke his collarbone in the Tour of Yorkshire, spending much of the middle part of the season out of racing - “behind me, be consistent and try and have a good year.”