Swift searching for sprint redemption in second season with UAE Team Emirates

Ben Swift is hoping to get his career back on track in 2018 after a first season of personal and professional transition at Team UAE Emirates in 2017.

The Yorkshire man left Team Sky for UAE Team Emirates with the hope of continuing his success in the sprints and perhaps even stepping up from his two podium finishes at Milan-San Remo. He admits to Cyclingnews that the change of team and fatherhood meant he pushed himself too hard.

With Alexander Kristoff joining UAE Team Emirates as lead sprinter and team leader for the Classics, Swift's role has morphed somewhat. He will still have sprint opportunities but will also work for Kristoff and get his first-ever taste of the cobbled Classics.

Swift spent seven seasons at Team Sky as one of their core British riders. He turned 30 in November and knows there is no point in looking back at what could have been. His eyes are fixed firmly on future ambitions as he savours life as a young father.

He raced for 75 days in 2017, including the Tour de France, trying to contest as many sprints and target as many hilly races as he could. His best result was second, to his close friend and former Sky teammate Pete Kennaugh, on the Alpe d’Huez stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné and then fifth in the road race at the UCI World Championships in Bergen, while riding for Great Britain.

"2017 wasn't my best year for sure. I wouldn't say I had a bad year but there was a lot of change and a lot of things didn't go too well," Swift admits to Cyclingnews.

"Perhaps I was pushing myself too much, burning the candle at both ends. I had a new family, a new team and I was also doing a lot of training and racing. I put myself in a box without realising it. I was only ever at 80 per cent, never in great condition."

A solid winter

Swift ended his season after the World Championships and reset his mind and body, keen not to make the same mistakes in 2018.

"I managed to turn things around at the back end of the 2017 season and my fifth place at worlds put me back in a good place for the winter. I took a really nice break but kept riding for fun, so when I started serious training again, I felt I was fit and ready to go straight away.

"Our baby boy is sleeping much better now and I've created a much more structured routine, with training in phases combined with the right amount of recovery," he explains.

"UAE Team Emirates weren't happy with my season and I wasn't happy with my season. We discussed it, looked at it all and decided how to change things for the better. We've come up with a plan where I have clear goals and a clear race calendar."

While some riders have already travelled across continents and time zones to start racing in January, Swift will follow a more traditional approach via a solid winter of incremental training, with his season debut at the Volta ao Algarve (February 14-18).

"I didn't want to travel much in January, so that I can work intensely and hit the ground running from the very start in Algarve," he explains. "My race programme is heavy in the spring but balanced. I can race, recover and race again. I hope that means I can hit the races in the best shape possible."

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A first taste of the cobbled Classics

At Team Sky, Swift was considered as a rouleur-sprinter who could handle the climbs and still produce a winning burst of speed. His role and goals have changed for 2018. He will ride with and for Kristoff in the Classics but also be ready to take his own chances when they arise.

Swift is quiet, soften spoken and almost shy, yet his sprinter's pride and his talent as a bike rider shines through. He emerged via the Great Britain Under 23 Academy programme in Italy, and then was part of Team Sky for seven seasons. His shoulder injuries affected his 2015 and 2016 seasons but nobody finishes on the podium at Milan-San Remo by chance. Swift's confidence has taken a blow but he is fighting back.

With Kristoff flying the flag for UAE Team Emirates at the Abu Dhabi Tour in late February as part of his 'fake February Grand Tour', Swift will have a leadership role for the opening weekend of races in Belgium. He will then ride Paris-Nice, Milan-San Remo and return to Belgium for the cobbled Classics.

"I'll have an opportunity in the opening weekend in Belgium, I wouldn't say to redeem myself but to show the team and myself what I can really do," Swift says, emphasising his need to state his case and show his worth whenever possible in the spring.

"The cobbled Classics are something new for me. I wasn't super keen on it at first but I bought into it and now I’m looking forward to see how it goes. I'll ride the big four: E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen and then the Tour of Flanders. I'd like to ride Paris-Roubaix one year but not this spring because I just don't have the experience.

"I'll be back for the Amstel Gold Race before taking a break and deciding things for the rest of the season, including which Grand Tour I ride. The second part of my season will depend on what happens in the next few months."

Leading out or taking leadership

Swift knows he will have to ride for Kristoff in the cobbled Classics and lead him out in some of the sprints but he is confident it will also lead to his own chances along the way.

"Kristoff is our leader but as long as I'm close to him, I'll be in the best place I can be and anything can happen," Swift suggests.

"I've proved that I can win if I've got the speed and condition in my legs, I'm just missing the experience for the Classics. We've got a strong leader in Kristoff and hopefully we’ll have a couple of options come the finale of each of the Classics.”

While Swift and Kristoff are both mild mannered and intelligent, they're both too smart to let any personal ambitions spark a damaging rivalry. They know they can benefit from each other in races.

"We're similar in the fact that we‘re not pure sprinters, we're not perhaps the fastest riders in a race but we are fast and smart, and we know we can ride off each other pretty well,” Swift points out.

"There’s respect and understanding between us. We know it will probably be us two together in the finale of a lot of races. I get over the climb better than he does but in a shoulder-to-shoulder sprint he’s faster and more powerful than I am. It’ll be about horses for courses. We'll both be protected and we'll ride for with him in the flat sprints but if he doesn’t survive, then I know it turns to me.

"Alex knows he can sprint better off the lead out I can give him. I think it'll be a relationship that works well, like it did with Edvald Boasson Hagen at Team Sky. It’s all about winning for UAE Team Emirates. I hope he wins a lot and I hope to win a lot too."

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