Seven months ago, Ben Swift lay in intensive care after a career-threatening training crash left him with multiple injuries that included cuts, bruises, and a torn spleen.
On Sunday morning, he will lead the line for Great Britain at the World Championships elite men's road race after a successful comeback in what has been arguably his best season in years.
Swift started the season with a move back to his old stomping ground at Team Sky/Ineos after two barren years at UAE Team Emirates, but the campaign began in the worst possible way with that training crash in Tenerife.
However, since the Tour de Suisse in June, the British rider has been flying, and he took a deserved national road race title in the summer. Since then, his entire focus has been on the Yorkshire Worlds and, although he does not start among the elite favourites, his pedigree cannot be ignored.
"I don't think that I was thinking a lot back in February other than having recovery time. Once I knew I was outside of that danger zone, I knew that I was going to pull through. Then it was all about getting fit. Once I started to go really well again, this Worlds became a big focus," Swift told the press earlier this week.
"It's hard to think about coming back when you're in intensive care but, once you're a bit more awake, it's the only thing that you want to do. I was probably doing my coach's head in, and planning my race schedule. I was excited to come back."
The win in the British Nationals was a huge moment for Swift. It was justification for his move back to Ineos after some difficult years at UAE that almost left him contemplating retirement at the end of last year.
"That win showed to myself that I've had a really steady year. Each race I've had progression. To be able to win again and be consistent throughout the year was something that I lacked."
While Swift has never won a Monument or road world title, his pedigree in one-day races in nonetheless impressive. A rider doesn't finish on the podium of Milan-San Remo twice by fluke.
I've always gone well in hard one-day races. We're by no means the out-and-out favourites but we're the home nation and we've got a lot of strong guys on the team. Hopefully we can fly under the radar a bit. We all want to win – to get that jersey would be amazing – but to get a podium, you'd also be happy. We're going to try to win the race, though."
Having missed out on the full quota of eight riders, the British team line up with a small-but-well-formed six-man team. Swift will lead, with Adam Yates a likely foil towards the end of the event. Ian Stannard and Owain Doull will do the leg work early on, but Swift believes that the home nation can surprise a few people on Sunday if they can fly under the radar for long enough.
"It's a shame having six, but we have such strength in depth, and we don't need to take the race [on]. we can't sit back but we can stay as a unit, look after each other, and then have numbers on the laps. We have a group that knows how to race together and handle the distance."
Whatever the outcome, simply lining up at the Worlds as the designated leader is a huge step for Swift after what he has been through.
"This time last year, I didn't know if it was the end of my career," he says concerning his time at UAE Team Emirates.
"I didn't know if I was going to race in Britain, or whatever. Now I have a new two-year deal and I'm in a happy place. My home life is good and, barring my injury this year, this has perhaps been my best season."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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