A sprinter winning on Alpe d'Huez would have been a turn up for the books. Granted, Ben Swift is not a pure bunch sprinter, and climbing has been a specific focus of his in the past 18 months, but it would still have felt incongruous to see the two-time Milan-San Remo podium finisher raise his arms in victory on one of cycling's most famous mountains.
The British rider, who moved from Team Sky to UAE Team Emirates at the start of the year, put in a hugely impressive ride from the breakaway on the penultimate stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, dropping all of his companions bar former teammate Peter Kennaugh, who would in the end make the more natural climbing legs count.
"I really wanted to win, but on the finish like that with Pete it was always going to be hard. I was sort of gluing with cramp in the last 10km, and Pete was just really strong," Swift told Cyclingnews as he warmed down from his effort.
Swift's initial intentions were to work for his teammate Diego Ullisi, but as the break hit the first-category Col de Sarenne – the Alpe would be scaled from the lesser-known side – he sensed he was the stronger of the two. Once he and Kennaugh were alone they collaborated as smoothly and effectively as close friends and former housemates could be expected to, before they had to turn on each other in the endgame.
"We know each other really well and once we were together we were always going to commit 100 per cent to each other. In that scenario there's no passenger, and we've known each other for a long, long time, so we're always going to give each other 100 per cent," said Swift.
Swift, more muscular than Kennaugh's more traditional climber's frame, spent plenty of time out of the saddle as the pair crested the Sarenne and made their way through the intermediate section before the road ramped up again as it joined the traditional Alpe d'Huez route with just under 4km to go. It was there that Kennaugh, scared to take Swift to the line, put in a couple of accelerations and forged clear.
"I was surprised with how good I actually felt. It's not exactly my preferred terrain, although I think it's a bit better for me these days," said Swift.
"But on a finish like that I'm always going to struggle to go with Pete. If I didn't have cramp I could've maybe followed his first few accelerations because afterwards I was actually holding him for the rest of the climb. It's disappointing, you always want to win. But when you're up against someone like Pete there was nothing else I could do."
Swift is yet to win a race in the colours of his new team, though Saturday's performance suggested his climbing work has paid off and that he can hunt for stages at the Tour de France – his first since 2011 – with confidence. Before that, however, there's the small matter of the British national championships, where he'll once again encounter his old friend – and now foe.
"It bodes well for the Tour, and also for the nationals, so hopefully we'll have a good rematch there."
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