The last Yorkshireman to ride the Tour de France is targeting a return to winning ways to force his way into the big-race reckoning, writes Nick Westby.
Rotherham’s Ben Swift returns to action at the Tour of Mallorca in February, five months after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The 26-year-old Team Sky rider took the decision last summer to end a difficult 2013 early to repair an injury that had dogged him for the best part of three years.
Now fully fit, Swift is keen to get a few sprint wins under his belt to put his hand up for selection to the two-time defending champion Sky squad.
“The plan is to get back to winning and to win as many as I can,” said Swift, a former world champion on the track.
“I’m not really targeting any specific race, I just want to go out there and put 2013 behind me.
“I’m happy with my recovery and I’m just looking forward to cracking on.
“The injury is fixed but it might take a bit of time to get the muscular strength back and to get over the soreness.”
Swift rode the Tour de France in 2011 as a domestique to Bradley Wiggins but, after bursting onto the scene as the King of the Mountains at the 2007 Tour of Britain, he has remodelled himself as a sprinter.
The nine-man Sky squad he is trying to get into for the Tour de France is one built to challenge for the general classification, as Mark Cavendish found to his detriment in his short-lived stay with the British squad.
But they still have the ability to pinch stage wins in a grand tour, with Edvald Boasson Hagen and Chris Sutton the sprinters currently ahead of Swift in the pecking order.
“We all tend to run different programmes and we’re all suited to slightly different things,” he said.
“There’s no in-house competition. We all work together, but we don’t have a Cavendish or an Andre Greipel.
“We’re more of a GC team and have to pick up our oportunities when we can.”
Swift has been working hard over the festive period riding regular training runs alongside fellow pros Dean and Russell Downing.
They have assessed the two Tour stages that weave through Yorkshire this summer, with the second stage into Sheffield offering Swift the ideal incentive in the early season.
“I’ve had a look at the Sheffield stage and I think it’s going to be a lot tougher than people think,” he said.
“The Tour de France in Yorkshire would be a dream but it’s all about whether I have the early-season form to warrant selection.
“Because the last two seasons have not gone as well, I can’t really bullishly say I want to target this or that; I need to earn that right, which in itself is a challenge I am relishing.”