If Connor Swift thought winning the British road race title last June was an instant ticket to cycling’s big leagues then events of the past six months have taught him otherwise.
Not that riding with the national jersey on his back has proven a burden, far from it. The 23-year-old from Doncaster has relished the greater profile it has given him in the sport and gained as much as he can from the new experiences it afforded him.
But in a cycling market hit by sponsor withdrawals and teams folding, the national title he claimed with a solo break up in Northumberland last summer, has not opened the doors it might well have done in previous years.
It means Swift begins 2019 still riding for British continental team Madison Genesis – happy to be part of an established set-up he has called home for the past two seasons, but more determined than ever to make it to World Tour level at some stage.
“As soon as you win the national championships, everyone in Britain automatically thinks: ‘right this guy is going World Tour’,” says Swift, who has seen fellow Yorkshire rider and former national champion Adam Blythe move back to the top tier and Tour de Yorkshire stage winner Harry Tanfield fast-tracked to a team among the elite this winter.
“But it’s quite a lot different than that. Teams these days have a lot of depth, they have young riders who are getting results in Under-23 races, and they are the guys World Tour teams are targeting.
“Myself, I’ve never done an Under-23s race, or represented Great Britain at that level, so I’m still having to prove myself to those teams.
“So that’s why I’m with Madison this year and those few UCI (top-tier) races that we do do, they’re going to be my aims.
“I’m targeting those races as the ones I need to come away from with good results, to back up the season I’ve just had and to prove to the World Tour teams that I should be at that level.”
Swift has had a taste of the top echelons. Dimension Data – Mark Cavendish’s team – gave him a deal until the end of the season on the back of his British title success, to ride in Continental races, at the level just below the World Tour.
Things didn’t work out quite right for me, but hopefully no one is going to forget the season I’ve had.Cyclist Connor Swift
“I absolutely loved it,” adds Swift, for whom the experience of riding alongside veteran campaigners like Bernie Eisel left him hungry for more.
But the tight financial climate cycling finds itself in has forced Swift to show patience.
“It was an accumulation of lots of little things that meant I stayed where I am,” he says.
“This year has been an especially difficult year in the cycling market. Teams have folded, teams have merged, leaving a lot of World Tour riders without a contract for next year, so it’s been a scary marketplace.
“Things didn’t work out quite right for me, but hopefully no one is going to forget the season I’ve had.”
The task this year is to build on 2018, utilising for the first six months of the year the benefit of wearing the national jersey.
“I don’t want it to necessarily change the way I race, but I want it to strengthen the way I race,” says Swift, who is targeting the Tour de Normandie in March and May’s Tour de Yorkshire as two key appointments.
“If I was in the break with a national champion from another country I’d be a little intimidated. So other riders might be thinking that of me, which gives me confidence looking forward.
“To maintain it this year I’ve got to have a solid winter, do everything right and hit the races in the best form that I can be and win some races.
“And hopefully one of those is the Tour de Yorkshire.
“I can’t wait to have the national jersey on during a home race with friends and family cheering me on. I rode the Tour de Yorkshire the last two years but it’ll be a lot different this year, hopefully I’ll get a lot more respect in the bunch having the national jersey on my back.”