It’s been a whirlwind few months for Connor Swift, who couldn’t have imagined at the start of the year where he’d be now. The 23-year-old received a call from Arkéa-Samsic a few months into the season and, in the blink of an eye, he was a pro rider.
It was a step he’d hoped to make at the start of the year, but no pro contract came his way in the off-season, despite the British national road race champion’s jersey on his back and a decent stint as a stagiaire with Dimension Data. As such, when Arkéa came knocking, he jumped at the opportunity and hasn’t looked back.
Three months on, he found himself at the Arctic Race of Norway, racking up his 35th day of racing in Arkéa colours. Cyclingnews caught up with Swift – cousin of Team Ineos rider, and current British national champion Ben Swift – at the race to hear how things were going.
Cyclingnews: Firstly, how’s life as a fully-fledged pro treating you?
Connor Swift: Good. The race programme has been pretty full gas from the start, but it’s where I want to be and what I want to be doing. It’s been good to just come into the team and be accepted by all the riders and staff. There’s a really friendly atmosphere and I’m really enjoying it so far.
CN: What was the integration process like, being a mid-season transfer and a French team?
CS: Well, I signed the contract on a Friday, and the logistics person doesn’t work on weekends so I had to sort out my travel to Dunkirk, got there on the Monday and – bang – straight on the bike, and then I was racing on Tuesday. So there was no normal ‘joining a pro team’ sort of thing. It was good. It was kind of a case of taking the opportunity as it came.
CN: How’s the French coming along?
CS: I’m trying to learn, through audiobooks and apps on my phone. There are five DSs in the team who can all speak English, as well as a few riders, so if I don’t understand something, I can just ask someone. I could kind of get by even if I didn’t learn any, but I’m trying to learn. Race radio is in French but it’s not really an issue. In the races, it’s all similar information, and as long as you know numbers, you’re pretty sure what’s coming. You pick it up quite fast. Vent du côté – that’s definitely ‘crosswind’.
CN: Are you still living in the UK?
CS: Yes, still living in Doncaster. I don’t think it’s an issue because I’ve got six airports within two hours of me. I’ve also caught the train a few times – Doncaster to London and then the Eurostar to France – so there are plenty of travel options to get to races. The only problem is the weather in the winter but that’s what training camps are for. Living at home is comforting to me, and the team are fine with it, too.
CN: What’s your role in the team, because you were billed as a lead-out rider for André Greipel?
CS: Originally that was the plan, but the only race I’ve done with him so far was Dunkirk. Since then he was preparing for the Tour de France and the team chose for him to do the Critérium du Dauphiné. I did the Tour of Norway then the Belgium Tour, and haven’t raced with him since, but we’ll both be at the Hamburg Classic. In terms of my role, whichever races I do with Greipel, I’ll be part of the lead-out train for him. For the other races, I think the team are still learning what type of rider I am, so it’s been good to do a variety of races. They’ve taken me to the mountains, I’ve done Belgium, Norway, and now this, so they’re learning where my strengths lie.
CN: Where do you feel your strengths lie? As a lead-out rider?
CS: It’s something I’d never really done before – a pure lead-out – but it’s something I don’t mind doing, getting stuck in at the sharp end of a race. Hamburg will be the real test. We can’t really go off Dunkirk because I’d only just got the kit and the bike and everything, but in Hamburg it will be good to see where things are at and if I’m any good in that role. As a rider, I like the days that wear the bunch down and it becomes a small group at the end – like stage 1 here. Ideally, I’d have made that split, but I started the climb too far back so was kicking myself about that. But those days where it’s really aggressive racing all the time, and then goes into a small group, are what I like.
CN: Similar to your cousin, then?
CS: I’m not far off his attributes. Ben can climb better than me, and he’s lighter as well. Maybe he has a faster kick than me, but I’d say I have more of a longer-range attack in me. I really want to try to spend the winter on the time trial bike and see if I can focus on some TTs next year as well. And the one-day races. I can’t wait for those at the beginning of next year – I’m pumped for them already.
CN: How do you rate your climbing?
CS: I don’t mind climbs that are below seven per cent, and hopefully no longer than five to seven kilometres. That’s kind of my threshold for climbing. I can just about get over those sorts of lumps.
CN: Greipel hasn’t had a good season and there were rumours of retirement. What's going on there?
CS: I think he’s happy with the team. Obviously it’s a big difference coming from Lotto Soudal to this team. At Lotto he had a team around him purely for the lead-out, with guys he’d raced with for years. Everyone is adapting here. I haven’t spoken to him much, but I think it was quite nice for him to finish the Tour in sixth place on the Champs-Elysées. Obviously, he’d be disappointed with that, but to get that result on the last day showed he’s still got it. But he definitely likes the team.
CN: What does the rest of the season hold for you?
CS: I do Hamburg next week, then Poitou-Charentes, then I’ll do the Tour of Britain for the GB team. After that I’ll do quite a lot of one-day races like the GP d’Isbergues, the Tour de l’Eurometropole, Paris-Tours – similar to what I did with Dimension Data last year. Those races suit me well so it will be nice to go back.
CN: And the world championships in your home region…
CS: Well, we got the news the other day that there are only going to be six riders now for GB because we missed out on a top-10 ranking, so that makes the selection even harder. I’d love to race a home Worlds, but we’ll have to wait and see if I can get a few results and show the form.
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Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist, and former deputy editor of Cyclingnews, who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.