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Stage winner and points leader Ben Swift (Sky)
Road-focused year starts with Tour Down Under
The 24-year-old has targeted a slot in Sky’s Classics line-up as his first target but in terms of season objectives, he's looking to up his win rate.
“The biggest plans and targets are just to win as much as I can. I only had two wins on the road this year but I had 8 seconds and 5 thirds so I was close a lot of the time so I just want to turn those around and into wins. Id love to break into the Classics like Milan-San Remo and get some experience there,” he told Cyclingnews.
His pathway to Classics selection could be determined by his opening season form. As in 2011, he will race the Tour Down Under. Australia has been a successful patch for Swift. In 2011 he won two stages and finished third on the podium. This year, the Tour Down Under was shelved as Olympic track ambition took over but with the Worlds in Australia Swift picked up results.
“I love racing Down Under and it’s been pretty good stomping ground for me in the past,” he added, pointing to the World title he won in the scratch race and silvers he claimed in the points and Madison races.
However the Worlds were not a complete success. Swift’s participation in the scratch, points race and Madison events were based on the fact he was dropped from Great Britain’s team pursuit squad. It signalled the end of his Olympic ambitions.
“A lot of my early season and winter preparation was focussed on the track and trying to get selected for the Olympic team pursuit. That never materialised but then we made the call during the world championships that I wasn’t going to go continue on the track and that gave me opportunity to let me race events that I really love racing - points, Madison, and scratch - and I took full advantage of that,” he told Cyclingnews.
“I was there or thereabouts and it was good to have me there to add to the competition and fight for places and I really enjoyed that time but at the end of the day I didn’t quite have it and I wasn’t good enough for the speed they were going to go. At that time, there were just better riders. i was in and out of the team and was travelling to the Worlds in the four that were going to race but then as we got there I just slipped out of it. I could see it coming to be honest.”
Once back on the road Swift spent the rest of the spring building his condition for the road. While Bradley Wiggins and his stage race comrades were dominating the Tour, Swift was enjoying his own summer success at the Tour de Pologne. Despite untimely luck on the first stage Swift picked up two stage wins and the points competition.
“That race was definitely a highlight for me. I wanted to go there and have GC in my mind but that got shattered on the first day with a puncture. I had really good form, though, with two wins, a second and third.”
With the Vuelta just around the corner observers anticipated Swift would win his first Grand Tour stage. He came close on a number of occasions but found himself beaten by the pure sprinters. The race highlighted that Swift, although fast, isn’t in the same bracket as the world’s best out-and-out fastmen. The former Katusha rider prefers the terrain to sap the strength of his fastest riders, and for a whittling down process to eliminate the pure speedsters.
“The Vuelta was super hard race but the sprint days were almost too easy in a sense and they were for pure sprinters. My sprinting shows on the harder days when the peloton has split. In a big Grand Tour, in the sprints, I’m going to run top ten but it would have to be a really lucky day for me to get the win.”
With Mark Cavendish leaving the team Swift will undoubtedly have more chances to race for himself but don’t expect him to even try and fill the Manxman’s shoes.
“Cav is the fastest man in the world and he’s a pure out and out sprinter. I’m not a pure sprinter. I like getting involved in them and I get results but I prefer it when it’s more undulating. I think we’ve got a few fast guys in the team though.”