Sir Dave Brailsford says the future is bright for Yorkshire cyclists Ben Swift and Josh Edmondson and that he hopes their true potential can be realised at Team Sky.
Brailsford has courted contoversy in the build-up and first week of the Tour de France by naming only two Britons in the nation’s flagship squad for the biggest race in the world.
The omission of former winner Sir Bradley Wiggins in particular caught the headlines, with the debate reignited by the crash and abandonment of favourite and defending champion Chris Froome on stage five.
Brailsford then risked the wrath of British cycling when he suggested he would like to win the Tour with a French rider.
Despite those adverse headlines, the man behind the boom in British cycling over the last few years still has the best interests of the nation at heart.
And in Swift and Edmondson, he sees two young men who can continue to shape that future.
Swift is enjoying his most productive season since his one and only ride in the Tour de France, for Sky, three years ago.
Having undergone shoulder surgery last August that brought a prompt end to his 2013 campaign, Swift has enjoyed a stellar season in the sprints, highlighted by a third-place at the Milan-San Remo monuments classic, and a runner-up finish behind multiple grand tour stage winner Marcel Kittel at the Giro d’Italia.
He also earned victories at the Vuelta Pais Vasco in Spain and the Coppi e Bartli in Italy.
Like Edmondson, his contract at Sky concludes at the end of the season, but having bought the Rotherham racer out of his Katusha contract five years ago, Brailsford appears keen to keep the faith with a rider he speaks of in glowing terms.
“Ben’s a fantastic rider, it’s rare to find somebody with such a brilliant attitude as Ben Swift, he’s the most professional rider you’ll ever meet,” Brailsford told The Yorkshire Post on the eve of the Tour de France in Yorkshire.
“He’s a brilliant team member, he’s really excellent in that environment, and he’s got that desire to win.
“He’s similar to Chris Hoy in that respect – a really good bloke and yet they’ve got that desire to win.
“Ben’s been plagued by injuries and crashes.
“He’ll go forward and then he’ll crash, but he’s very talented and he had a very good result in Milan-San Remo this year. He just needs some consistency.
“He crashed again in the Giro d’Italia but he’s had a long season and he’s tired now, and that probably just took the edge off him when it came to Tour de France selection.
“But I think the future is still very, very bright for him.”
Swift, who finished second in the British road race championships recently, is targeting success at the world road race championships in Spain at the end of September and the Tour of Britain earlier in the month as his two big aims for the remainder of the season.
At 26, he has four years more experience on his fellow Yorkshireman and Sky team-mate Edmondson, whose neo-pro deal with Sky concludes at the end of the season.
Edmondson has not had the attention-grabbing results that Swift has enjoyed this year, and as a developing domestique, he is unlikely ever to do so.
But the Leeds rider has been spoken highly of ever since joining Sky 18 months ago with the potential to be a grand tour contender even being muted in some quarters.
He finished fifth at the British championships in Wales two weeks ago and is currently doing a sterling job riding in support of Pete Kennaugh at the Tour of Austria.
In May’s Tour of California, Edmondson played a prominent role in helping Wiggins to overall victory, but by and large he has not been given enough chances to show himself on the big stage.
Nevertheless, he remains a prospect that excites Brailsford – if he continues to work hard.
“He’s a great talent who is learning his trade,” said Brailsford.
“For Josh now it’s all about discipline, organisation, and allowing himself to keep on doing the work he needs to do in order for his talent to flourish.
“I think Josh has a great future.”
What might influence Brailsford – and indeed both riders –when the time comes to sit down and discuss contracts and weigh up options, is the sheer depth of the Sky roster. With 30 riders, Sky have one of the biggest squads in the peloton and both young Yorkshiremen have to decide whether their interests are best served trying to force their way into the British team, or by taking a more prominent role at a lesser squad on the continent.
Swift, as a reliable sprinter, would have a number of suitors, while Edmondson may not be seen as such hot property, such is his lack of palmeres (record).
Yet even with that to consider, Brailsford recognises the importance of keeping young British talent on his roster.
“For sure teams would go for both of them because they’re talented riders but I’d like to think that their futures lie with us,” he added.
“Because they’ve both got bright futures.”