Alps next learning stage on Swift’s route to the summit

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Connor Swift looked over his shoulder once, twice, then a third time before focusing on the closing 500 metres.

Still he was not comfortable in what he was about to achieve so he allowed himself a couple more glances behind him.

Parents of Connor, Angie and Nick Swift congratulate their son after winning the British road race title. (Picture: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com)

Parents of Connor, Angie and Nick Swift congratulate their son after winning the British road race title. (Picture: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com)

Surely he would be caught. But only at 200 metres to go, and with no other cyclists close enough to close the gap, did the 22-year-old from Doncaster finally accept he was about to become the British road race champion of 2018.

The outpouring of emotion as he embraced family, girlfriend and older cousin and fellow rider Ben Swift moments after the finish line spoke more of the genuine surprise at what he had just accomplished than anything else.

A few hours earlier up the road in Northumberland, no-one was looking at this young man to take a title that is a rollcall of the great and good of British cycling.

In Kufstein tomorrow, when he lines up alongside 187 of the planet’s best for the men’s road race at the climax of these UCI Road World Championships, even fewer eyes will be focused on the young Yorkshireman.

Connor Swift will ride for Great Britain at the UCI Road World Championships men's road race (Picture: SWPix.com)

Connor Swift will ride for Great Britain at the UCI Road World Championships men's road race (Picture: SWPix.com)

But if the events of July 1 in Northumberland taught the cycling world anything, it is that Swift is not one to be judged by preconceived conceptions. He was a complete outsider that day but got himself in the early break and then sped off solo, leaving everyone trailing in his wake.

“I was feeling good 12km out so I attacked and managed to stay away,” the British champion told The Yorkshire Post.

“I never fully accepted I would complete the win until about 300, 200 metres to go; that’s when I realised it. If you look at the footage of that last 500 metres, I look behind me about eight times.”

The disbelief has since faded and Swift is growing into his role as national champion. The rewards have been plentiful; greater recognition from fans on the roadside at the Tour of Britain, more duties off the bike and an appreciation from within the peloton of a young man fulfilling his potential. The greatest reward comes tomorrow, though, against the stunning backdrop of the Alps when he rides for Great Britain for the biggest prize in cycling – the rainbow jersey.

The absence of grand tour winners Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome may have created an opening but Swift has earned his place on the eight-man team.

It is highly unlikely he will speed off on his own this time, but do not be surprised to see him in an early breakaway as he tries to build a platform for Britain’s medal hopefuls, led by Vuelta Espana winner Simon Yates and his twin brother Adam.

“I’m under no illusions that it’s a course that suits me because it’s definitely not,” said Swift, who only took up cycling seriously six years ago after a dalliance with triathlon.

“There’s almost 5,000 metres of climbing and two nasty climbs in there, so it’ll be a case of me covering big moves that go at the start, potentially being in a breakaway and helping the Yates brothers, Hugh Carthy, Pete Kennaugh – the guys who could potentially win the race.

“I’m there to help as best as I can.”

Understandably on an Alpine course, climbing will be essential, particularly up the Angerberg and the steep ascent to Gnadenwald, but the race could well be decided by who descends the fastest and most skilfully.

Today it is the turn of the women. The Netherlands look strong with Anna van der Breggen and defending champion Chantal Blaak in their ranks, while Hannah Barnes and Dani Rowe lead the British charge.