BEN SWIFT has set himself an audacious set of goals for 2016 in a bid to convince Team Sky he is worthy of their continued faith in his talents.
The Rotherham sprinter is opting for an all-or-nothing approach as enters the final year of his contract and his seventh season with the all-conquering British team.
The 28-year-old hopes to produce a number of consistent performances and race wins in the first part of the campaign, with March’s Milan-San Remo and the Tour de Yorkshire over the May Bank Holiday weekend, his primary targets.
Then, after an intense block of training and a shift in focus, the Yorkshireman wants to stake a claim to play a key role in support of Chris Froome’s bid for a third Tour de France yellow jersey before riding in support of whoever is Britain’s designated sprinter at the Rio Olympics.
All this despite sitting out three months of last year with the shoulder injury he sustained when crashing out of a rain-lashed opening stage of the Tour de Yorkshire.
“I’ve spoken to the team and told them I’d like to do the Tour de France in support of Chris,” said Swift, whose one and only ride in the race came in 2011, long before Sky were the biggest team in the peloton.
“To get into the equation I’d have to change my role to be more of a support rider, and lose a bit of weight to get into that position.
“But I’ve told them I want to do that. In the first part of the season, my focus is on results, then after the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of California in early May it’s three weeks of solid training to the Tour de Suisse when I can, hopefully, put myself into a better position as a support rider.
“There’s also the Olympics this summer so it’s quite a big year.
“If I can get to Rio, it’ll once again be as a supporting rider in the road race. I did the test event last year at Rio and a it’s a climbers’ course, so that’s further reason to lose the weight and change my style a little.”
Swift is under no illusions as to the size of the challenge he is setting himself.
Sky’s signing this year of 2014 world champion Michal Kwiatkowski illustrates the depth of roster he has to fight his way through for one of eight highly-coveted spots in support of Froome.
A place on an even smaller team in Rio will be equally sought-after among a British professional cycling community that grows by the year.
“The depth of talent in British Cycling is staggering right now,” admits Swift, who, as a 20-year-old, rode for Great Britain in the road race at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“I was an amateur back then, but British Cycling has grown massively since, and the difference between Beijing and Rio just emphasises that.”
If it does not all go to plan this year, Swift appreciates that while Sky chief Dave Brailsford has been quoted in this newspaper before as being a huge admirer of Swift’s work ethic, cycling is a results business and it might be time to move on.
“I don’t know whether I’ll be with the team in 2017,” concedes Swift, whose one and only season as a professional outside of the Sky bubble came with Russian outfit Katusha in 2009.
“I’ll have to weigh up my options. I’ve grown up with all these guys but I’m not afraid to move on and see what other opportunities are out there for me.”
A good indicator of the year ahead for Swift will come in Australia this week.
His first race of the year is a criterium in Adelaide tomorrow before the start of the six-day Tour Down Under on Tuesday.
Australia is a happy hunting ground for Swift, who won a track world title there in 2012 a year after winning two stages of the Tour Down Under.
His third-place finish in the RideLondon Classic late last summer proves he has overcome his latest spell on the sidelines.
“I’ve had surgery twice on the left shoulder and twice on the right. I’m like the bionic man,” jokes Swift, from the team’s training camp in Adelaide.
“It must be my genetic make-up. You could have five crashes a year and be all right and then I can land on my shoulder just once and I’m sidelined. But you can’t worry about injuries.”
Two years ago, he showed there was no lingering physical or mental affects by tearing into the 2014 season, producing his best run of form that produced two wins, a third place in the Milan-San Remo and a second-place finish on a stage of the Giro d’Italia.
“I came out of the 2013 surgery really well so I’ve got that to reflect on, not that I want to be someone who is repeatedly forced to take the second half of the year out,” he says.
“Hopefully, though, that break in the middle of last year has put me in good shape for the season.”
The circumstances surrounding his enforced absence were particularly cruel.
Swift, as the county’s leading rider in the world peloton, had been the face of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire last May. He was an active promoter of the event, and, as team leader of Sky that week, much was expected.
So his crash on the road to Scarborough on day one left him with painful memories.
“I had quite a dreadful time there last year,” says Swift, who admits he will focus solely on the racing this year in lieu of promoting the event.
“I had a lot of home support so for that to happen was really disappointing.
“A home Tour was a big deal for me but the good thing is it’s hopefully around for a long time so I get another chance at it.
“It feels a little like unfinished business and I’m excited about this year’s race. The third stage is into Doncaster, which is about 15 miles from where I grew up.”