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Swift: The problem for everyone at Milan-San Remo will be Van der Poel and Van Aert

AMILLY FRANCE MARCH 08 Rohan Dennis of Australia and Team INEOS Grenadiers Ben Swift of United Kingdom and Team INEOS Grenadiers during the 79th Paris Nice 2021 Stage 2 a 188km stage from OinvillesurMontcient to Amilly ParisNice on March 08 2021 in Amilly France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images
Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers) at Paris-Nice (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The tremors released by Mathieu van der Poel’s savagely powerful attack that carried him to victory at Strade Bianche on Saturday are still being felt at Paris-Nice a handful of days later.

British champion Ben Swift spoke for many when he suggested that Milan-San Remo is already looking like the Dutchman’s race to lose, the Ineos Grenadiers sprinter adding that Wout van Aert appears to be the only rider capable of matching Van der Poel.

Third in 2014 and runner-up to Arnaud Démare two years later, Swift acknowledged that the season’s first Monument is an objective for him, but that it is rapidly becoming more difficult for him to win it.

“The main problem is going to be Van der Poel and Van Aert, and I think that’s the problem for everyone. There’s not many guys that can follow them when they accelerate,” said Swift prior to the start of the second stage of Paris-Nice.

“I don’t think we’ve seen anybody going as fast into Siena as we saw van der Poel go on Saturday. A couple of guys were texting me saying, ‘That was crazy!’ ‘That was unbelievable!’ But he’s done it time and time again. OK, Strade Bianche was a little bit different to the [2019] Tour of Britain, but on the stage into Kendal he put about five seconds into us in the last 400 metres. He’s done that multiple times, and for sure he’s going to do it on the Poggio.”

Of his own chances of a third podium finish in La Primavera, Swift said, “It will depend how my legs are coming out of this race and then on how San Remo pans out.”

Beyond that, he’s still not sure which major races will feature on his programme, but he hopes to return to the Giro d’Italia, where he finished an impressive 18th overall last year in support of teammate and GC winner Tao Geoghegan Hart. 

“I’m still talking with the team about what’s further down the line. I’d like to go back to the Giro again and support our leaders there. It would be nice to win a Grand Tour stage, but first and foremost it’s about trying to win the maglia rosa with the team again,” he said.

Swift also cast some more light on Richie Porte’s crash on the opening day of Paris-Nice that forced the Australian to abandon the race.

“It was an extra feed point, towards the bottom of the climb, and there was a bottle in the middle of the road. I don’t know whether someone dropped it or missed it from a swanny,” he explained. 

“Unfortunately, George Bennett hit it, hands off the bars and feet out, and it sent him to the left. Luckily for him, Richie was there. Unluckily, for Richie, it took his front wheel away. It was just a freak accident. But, again, we’ve got bidons causing accidents and forcing riders to abandon.”

Swift said the loss of the Australian won’t change the British team’s tactics for the rest of the race.

“We’ve still got a really strong guy in Tao. Richie is a two-time winner of this race, which was his first back with this team after a few years, but I think we all saw what shape Tao has got into at the Giro last year. He showed pretty well in Haut Var as well, so nothing really changes for us. We’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing and see how it goes. We’ll all be behind Tao now,” he said.

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).