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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 2 of 2Ben Swift Career Highlights

Fake Tan and Yellow Pinarellos

The Rotherham-born cyclist grew up riding BMXs and mountain bikes before switching to the road and the track. He was racing before he had even started primary school. ‘I did my first race when I was three and a half so I’ve been doing it for quite a few years now,’ he says. ‘That was around a local national park. I was on the start line and my dad rode with me. I was last I think. There were no age categories sadly.’

He dabbled in other sports but cycling was his real passion. ‘When I played football I just stood there picking the mud off the bottom of my boot. It was the same with rugby. I had no interest. As a kid I just enjoyed the speed you got on the bike. I would be out riding in the woods and my mum would say: ‘Make sure you come back every hour so I know where you are!’ But I never came back. I would go out at 7am and not get back until the sun had set.’

Ben Swift Mechanic

He enjoyed watching sprinters such as Oscar Freire of Spain and Robbie McEwen of Australia and would race home from school to watch the Tour de France on TV. Swift’s first road bike was garishly memorable. ‘I think it was fluorescent yellow and blue. Dave Marsh was the local frame builder. The bike was dead tiny. It had gears on the down tube. It was a 12-speed – maybe even an eight speed. It had brake cables coming out of the top of the levers, and little drop handlebars. I loved it.’ His passion for cycling occasionally got him into trouble. He would sometimes skip the end of school to join the local club run and he can remember riding along behind the very school bus he should have been on himself. In his youth he was also guilty of a few style faux pas. ‘I would have fake tan on my legs but not on my arms. That was in the junior days, so we’ll leave that bit out, please. I think Dowsett still does that now.’

As a youngster, Swift raced for Ashfield RC, Mossley CRT and Scunthorpe Poly CC. Through the junior race circuit he became friends with Britain’s most talented junior riders. ‘There was a really strong group of youth riders and the funny thing is most of them are with me at Team Sky now. I grew up with Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe and Pete Kennaugh. Cav was around too and Adam Blythe lived 30 minutes down the road. The amount of time we have spent racing together is pretty amazing.’

Swift’s dreams were almost dashed when he failed a trial for the new British Cycling Talent Team, which had been created to help the most gifted young riders. ‘Everybody said, “You’ve got no worries, you’re going to make it.” But I never passed the test. I didn’t even make the required power for the category below the girls’ age group benchmark. I got a letter saying, “Sorry, you have not made it.”’

When Swift recently showed the letter to Rod Ellingworth, the Team Sky performance boss laughed about it. ‘I was never the strongest at races but I was always performing at the front so it didn’t make sense. Rod says it sparked a different way of thinking. They changed the criteria. Fortunately, I got into the Olympic Development Programme so I still went through the British Cycling system.’

Pro Dreams

Swift was a natural champion as a youngster. He won a junior national track title in the points race in 2004 and in the scratch race in 2005. He also took a stage of the junior Tour of Wales in 2005 and won the Rutland CC Midsummer Road Race in the same year. This kind of sustained success earned him a place at British Cycling’s Under-23 Academy in 2005. The system enabled an elite group of talented riders, including Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard, to train in Manchester and Tuscany, learning about everything from map-reading and bike cleaning to sprint tactics and descending.‘That move to Italy was proper “boys on tour” stuff,’ he says. ‘But it was hard work because our lives became a training camp. It’s not like uni where you can just have a takeaway. You’ve got to be able to cook and eat healthily and you can’t just party all the time.’

Ben Swift Cafe

Rod Ellingworth believes these were crucial years in Swift’s development. ‘Swifty was this tiny kid with spindly legs who we used to see all the time at the track in Manchester – he’d pop over from Sheffield with his parents. Then all of a sudden he grew to six foot, and we all thought, “Oh my God, where did that come from?” He’s a great little racer. He cut his teeth in Italy with us and found his niche. Swifty had the skills, became a bigger, stronger lad, and Italian racing suited him because you’d often have a smallish group coming into the finish after a section over the climbs. So he was winning races regularly in Italy, and in 2008 he was one of the best three under-23s there.’

In 2007 Swift earned a trainee contract with Barloworld and went on to win the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour of Britain. A pro contract with the Russian team Katusha followed in 2009 before he switched to the newly formed Team Sky in 2010. He completed his first Tour de France in 2011.

‘The first stage of the Tour was carnage,’ he recalls. ‘I have never seen that many crashes in a single road stage. My meshed gloves were ripped because they had caught so many people’s saddles. We were always stopping and trying to stay upright. But riding the Tour de France was massive. I got in a breakaway on the final day on the Champs-Élysées. My girlfriend, family and friends were all there. It was very special. I had already done the Giro and the Vuelta but at the Tour I was so nervous I found myself not going for the normal gaps. I remember thinking to myself: you race against these guys week in, week out; there is no difference; you are at the pinnacle of your sport, just enjoy it.’

It is a philosophy that has quietly guided Swift through the peaks and the troughs of the subsequent years. But he knows that with a few more high-profile victories he will be able to enjoy life even more. The Yorkshire rider clearly hopes that 2015 will be a year in which he reminds the cycling world what he can do. ‘It’s time to really kick on,’ he declares. ‘Over the past few years, we have developed into a renowned cycling nation. I am really proud to be around in this era and I want to play my part in it.’ 

Page 2 of 2Ben Swift Career Highlights