Rotherham’s Ben Swift recorded the result of his career yesterday to kickstart his campaign for a place in this year’s Tour de France.
The 26-year-old, who has only been back cycling competitively for a month after undergoing shoulder surgery before the end of last season, finished third in a stellar field at the prestigious Milan-San Remo.
After featuring prominently throughout the 294km Monument Classic, he carved out space on the left of the bunch and sprinted to a podium finish behind Alexander Kristoff of Team Katusha and time-trial specialist Fabian Cancellara.
Former world champion Mark Cavendish was among the riders trailing home in Swift’s wake as the Yorkshireman made a major statement of his sprinting credentials.
He has his eyes on a place in Dave Brailsford’s Team Sky squad for this year’s Tour de France, which begins with two stages in Yorkshire from July 5.
Edvald Boassen Hagen and CJ Sutton are the other two sprinters on the all-conquering British squad who Swift is competing with for what is expected to be just one spot on the Tour team.
His third-place yesterday, after nearly seven hours of racing in often driving rain, stands him in good stead for the rest of the season and a possible Tour return.
Swift was supported by Salvatore Puccio and Boasson Hagen on two closing climbs before the latter faded over the final climb.
Puccio helped bring the race back together on the climbs and created the opportunity for Swift.
“It’s the race that I’ve looked at in the past and dreamed about over the years,” said Swift.
“It’s the one big race where I could see myself getting a result because normally that sort of terrain is where I’d have pretty good legs.
“So to go there and do that today was a really great feeling.”
On the conditions, Swift added: “My hands were so cold. I was struggling to do anything with my fingers.
“I couldn’t do up my rain cape and things like that. I never felt bad in the race I was just cold. As it went on I just felt better and better. Then once we took the rain capes off and the racing really started I felt a lot better.”
Britons Geraint Thomas and David Millar were among a healthy contingent of riders who did not finish the race.
“When we got onto the climbs the rain did affect a lot of people,” continued Swift, who has not won a road race since 2012 having won a handful the year before.
“We were expecting a lot of attacks but they just never really materialised.
“The team rode together all day. The plan was to keep out of sight a little bit but to be at the front for the final climbs. I came around and got into a really good position at the bottom of the Cipressa (mountain) and that helped a lot.
“Heading into the finish I was just looking to stay safe down the Poggio and stay in contact with the front guys.
“I knew that you needed good position down there to make it as easy as possible.
“I didn’t really know how many people were in the group or not but I just tried to stay as far forward as I could.
“It turned into a bit of a track race once we got into that final 3km. There were always guys willing to put moves in and then once it came to the sprint it was just about trying to pick the right wheel. I got boxed in a little bit but luckily I managed to find a way out.”
York’s James Sharp timed his attack to perfection as he raced to victory in the BBM Revolution Spring Road Race, held in Pollington yesterday. The 39-year-old York Cycleworks man was part of a five-man breakaway which built a gap of 15 seconds over the rest of the field after 12 miles.
But with the gap being closed Sharp attacked, along with VC St Raphael rider Phil West, Julian Gromett and Julian Ramsbottom.
Sharp crossed the line eight seconds ahead of Leeds’ Giles Pidock with David Brearley of Scunthorpe Polytechnic third.
Doncaster’s Graham Briggs won race one of the Wolverhampton Wheelers CC Circuit Races on Saturday.
The 30-year-old out-sprinted Sam Williams to cross the line first ahead of the NFTO rider.