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Ben Swift Interview : Ice Cream & Injuries

Ben Swift Majorca
Mark Bailey
14 Apr 2015

Ben Swift is keen to win as his finish at Coppi e Bartali shows. The Team Sky rider reveals his goal and why he's tougher than Alex Dowsett.

Page 1 of 2Ben Swift Interview : Ice Cream & Injuries

Team Sky jerseys are as ubiquitous as potholes on the roads and hills of bike-mad Britain. But if you live in Yorkshire, the shadowy cyclist dressed in black, white and blue Rapha clothing who fizzes past you on a training ride could be a bona fide professional with a Tour de France under his belt, Sir Dave Brailsford’s number in his mobile phone and legs so powerful they could trigger a 40mph speed camera. ‘Sometimes when I’m training in England I get the double look,’ chuckles Ben Swift, who joined Team Sky in 2010 and still rides near his childhood home of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, on trips back to the UK. ‘It is funny because often I see our teammates – when I say “team-mates” I mean our fans in Team Sky kit – look at me and open their mouth ready to say something but all you get is an “Er… ah…” and then you’re gone.’

In the UK I train with the same group of cyclists I have been riding with since I was 12

The overlap of cycling’s professional and amateur domains, with weekend warriors free to tackle the same climbs and Strava segments – in the same kit, on the same bike, and fuelled by the same drinks and gels – as the pros, is one of the most appealing aspects of the nation’s fastest-growing sport. Although Swift, 27, spends most of his time cycling in Majorca, Tenerife, the Isle of Man and the south of France, he enjoys seeing the two worlds blend together on roads back home where, surprisingly, he still happily rides with local amateurs.

‘In the UK I train with the same group of cyclists I have been riding with since I was 12,’ he reveals. ‘In my area there has been a group on a Tuesday and a Saturday since God knows when and I always ride with them. Most don’t even race; they’re just hobby cyclists. I can come back from a World Tour race in my Team Sky kit but to them I am just normal. They are the same lads I used to wag school with to go out riding when we were kids.’

The Yorkshireman is one of the more unassuming and approachable riders in the professional peloton. He enjoys a Game Of Thrones box-set marathon and a blast of cheesy pop on his Spotify account. He is not averse to a cake with his cappuccino, or a dollop of ice cream at home. ‘My problem is that once I have a Ben & Jerry’s, I finish a Ben & Jerry’s. That was my New Year’s resolution: to not finish the ice cream in one.’ He also delights in winding up his cycling pals, playfully skewering Movistar’s Alex Dowsett for his banter in the February edition of BikesEtc. ‘Ben Swift thought he was the “King of the Turbo” because when he hurt his collarbone he used to do a two-hour session in the morning and another two hours at night,’ said Dowsett. ‘When he heard about my mammoth five-hour turbo session he was quite hacked off about it.’

Ben Swift Rapha

Swift laughs and shakes his head at the comments. ‘First, I think I would beat Dowsett on the turbo,’ he says, a boyish grin splitting his face. ‘I’ve got much more than he has. He can challenge me to a duel. You can tell him that. It was actually my shoulder injuries [in 2012 and 2013] that started those big turbo sessions for me. I’m not really into the pain of it. That’s why Dowsett likes it. He’s a bit weird.’

Man on a Mission

Despite Swift’s jesting, there’s no such frivolity when he gets on a bike. In his book Project Rainbow, Team Sky’s Head of Performance Operations Rod Ellingworth, who previously coached Swift and Mark Cavendish at the Under-23 British Cycling Academy, likens Swift’s ruthless winning instinct to that of Cavendish. ‘You put them against the clock and they weren’t that good, but they knew how to win races,’ he wrote. ‘He’s not a big bunch sprinter, but if he is in a group of 20 or 30 you would put a lot of money on Swifty winning.’

The 27-year-old’s talent has been obvious for a long time but he has been plagued by injury in recent seasons. Serious crashes in 2012 and 2013 resulted in Swift undergoing two complicated shoulder operations, which affected his training and diluted his confidence in sprints. After an injury-free campaign in 2014 he is desperate to chalk up some major race wins this season.

Swift has enjoyed a number of memorable moments in his career already, including a King of the Mountains jersey at the 2007 Tour of Britain, victory in the 2010 Tour of Picardie, stage wins at the Tour of California and the Tour Down Under in 2011 (the same year in which he completed the Tour de France), a scratch race world title on the track in 2012, and an eye-catching third place in last year’s Milan-San Remo. However, he suffered a disheartening run of second-place finishes last year, notably at the national road race championships and in the RideLondon-Surrey Classic. It’s an issue he is keen to remedy this year.‘I grew up winning a lot of races, so it is kind of frustrating that I have had a lot of second places in the last few years,’ he says. ‘I have won a few races but not enough. If I could change half of my second places into wins, I would have a very different career at the moment. Hopefully now I can step that up a bit.’ Having missed out on the chance to race in his native Yorkshire at the 2014 Tour de France, Swift is eager to win a stage at the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire (1st-3rd May), which has stage finishes in Scarborough, York and Leeds. ‘It was frustrating not to race at the Tour so I’d love to win in Yorkshire this year. I grew up training around there so it would be very special.’ Swift is also an ambassador for the London Cycle Sportive, which takes place days later on 10th May. ‘I think there will be a real buzz that month with the Tour de Yorkshire and the London Cycle Sportive. It’s amazing to see how cycling has grown here.’

The big question for Swift is how he hopes to upgrade from irritating second places to bold race wins this year. ‘Confidence is the big difference,’ he says. ‘I had a full season last year. It was a well-balanced season because I was performing well in January and October. I started 80 days of racing and finished 77 of them. I got 12,000km of racing in my legs. I had no issues at all, whereas in the two previous winters I had to have those operations. Over winter I only needed a week’s break and I was raring to go again. I started my training at a much higher level and I’m feeling good.’

The Team Sky rider also signed a new two-year contract last autumn. ‘The belief of the team is important,’ he says. ‘When you have a few years of injuries and crashes and near misses it is good to know that the team is motivated and happy to see you back performing well again. That drives you on.’

When Swift heads home in May he will have just finished the spring Classics season. He relishes the gritty one-day races of Europe, whose lumpy courses and fast finishes suit his riding style. ‘Milan-San Remo is the stand-out one but I have also done the Tour of Flanders [in 2011] which was six and a half hours but felt like a matter of minutes. You are running on adrenaline for most of it. In these races you have one chance on one day and if you have a crash or a puncture at the wrong time, that is a year’s or a winter’s hard work down the drain. Everything is on the line. It is full-on racing. That is the beauty of it.’1429031076969

Page 1 of 2Ben Swift Interview : Ice Cream & Injuries