Swift targets Milan-San Remo and Yorkshire success

Bradley Wiggins’ quest for success at Paris-Roubaix may be getting most of the headlines as Team Sky continue to look for their debut victory in the Monuments, but don’t count out Ben Swift ending that much-debated hoodoo three weeks before Wiggo’s high-profile curtain call. Third last year in Milan-Sanremo on his debut in the race, the 27-year-old Englishman believes everything is in place for him to win La Classicissima.

“Milan-San Remo has been the big goal throughout the winter, it’s the one race that I think about every time I get on the bike,” Swift told Cyclingnews during the team’s ongoing Majorca training camp. “To get that result last year was reassurance that it’s a race that I can perform in.

It’s always a race that’s stood out for me, but I’ve never had a chance to ride it before because I’ve either been injured or on the track. So to get into a race that on paper suits me and get a result was something I was really happy with. Plus, it was the first time I’ve ridden it.”

In 2012 and 2013, shoulder operations hampered Swift’s off-season training, leaving him with little chance of being ready for the early season races that should suit his strengths as a puncheur who can handle long-distance races. This winter, though, his preparations have been trouble-free.

“In those two winters I had to spend two months on the home trainer and six weeks in a sling, then had to build up from scratch again. But I had a good solid season last year – I think I did over 80 days of racing [77.- Ed]. Being able to take a normal break when I could actually relax for a week and not think about having an operation and then come back to training from an already advanced position was great,” Swift explained.

“Being ready for that day is definitely the focus for the early season. Last year I only got told I was definitely riding it two or three weeks before when they took out the Pompeiana climb. I think the big difference this year is that I’ve had it in the back of my mind for the whole winter,” said the Briton, whose path to Milan-San Remo will take him to the Majorca Challenge, Tour of Dubai, Tour of the Algarve and Paris-Nice.

Swift believes the change to Sanremo’s finale that will see it return to its traditional finish on the Via Roma will help him too. “It will change the race a little bit. With the finish being a kilometre closer to the descent off the Poggio, I definitely think that if I’m going as well as I was last year then I could potentially do better. This year I went over the top and off the bottom of the descent in the top three, so we’ll see. But that change will also alter the race up the Poggio a lot,” said Swift.

Beyond Milan-San Remo, Swift’s aim will be keep his consistency and turn more near-misses into victories – last year he finished second on seven occasions – and he has been working on his sprinting over the off-season. If there’s one other race where he’d like to show the rest a clean pair of heels then it’s the Tour de Yorkshire.

“I like the look of the route very much,” he said at Wednesday’s race presentation in Bridlington. “The stages have got a nice balance to them. The first has some tough climbs and crosswinds could impact on the sections alongside the sea. The second stage in York looks the most straightforward, but stages on a fast finishing circuit often don’t turn out that way. Then stage three provides a real hard finale.

“After Milan-San Remo, the Tour de Yorkshire will be a big focus for me. I’d certainly be aiming to win a stage and it would be great to win what will be my home race.”

Very much one of Sky’s stalwarts having been with the team since its foundation in 2010, Swift says it will be strange to see Wiggins leave the squad at the end of April. “He’s been such a figurehead for the team right from day one. He’s been one of the most professional guys on the team. When he’s set out a target, he’s usually gone out there and achieved it,” Swift said of the 2012 Tour de France champion.

Asked about Wiggins’ Roubaix bid, Swift added: “I think Bradley going for Roubaix is an interesting one. We’ve got a lot of strong riders for it. Wiggins was obviously ninth last year, G [Geraint Thomas] was seventh, and we missed Ian Stannard due to his back injury. I think we’ve got three really, really strong guys for it. If they can be in the position they were in last year with Ian there as well, it will be interesting to see how things go.”

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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).