Home Tour start unlikely for Swift as he targets Giro d’Italia wins

Ben Swift.
Ben Swift.
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Ben Swift admits riding as a Yorkshireman in a Tour de France that starts in his home county would have been too much of a sideshow, as he prepares to tackle the Giro d’Italia from today.

The 26-year-old sprinter from Rotherham has been rewarded for his splendid early-season form with a place in Sky’s nine-man squad for the first three-week grand tour of 2014.

He begins his campaign in Belfast as one of three sprinters vying for stage wins in a Sky squad built around pace, rather than general classification contenders as is the norm.

Swift’s inclusion, as merited and credible as it is, almost certainly ends his chances of an emotional appearance in the Tour de France, the second stage of which finishes in Sheffield, just 11 miles from where he grew up in Anston.

His bid to get to the start line in Leeds on July 5 was generating great local interest and with Swift being an amenable and savvy media operator, his story would have provided a poignant narrative in the build-up to Yorkshire’s Grand Depart.

But a Tour de France is about three weeks of intense racing, not just the two days in Yorkshire, and Swift acknowledges that his participation would have distracted a team chasing a third successive victory in the race.

The proximity of the two grand tours, with just five weeks between the end of the Giro and the start of the Tour, further limits his chances.

“The Tour de France was always going to be hard for me to get selected for,” conceded Swift, with Sky built around supporting yellow jersey favourite Chris Froome.

“It would have been nice being in Yorkshire, but on a personal level the Giro and the Vuelta Espana (final Grand Tour of the year in August) are much better options because they are races where I can go and get stage wins and really race.

“The Tour would have been amazing to do on home soil but it would have had such a different dynamic for myself racing the Tour de France as a Yorkshireman.

“There would have been a lot more media interest etc.

“You never say never, but it’s something the management team would need to decide.

“It’s pretty tough riding the Giro and the Tour so close together, especially after having such a focus on the Giro. Chances are I won’t be at the Tour de France.”

A few stage wins over the next three weeks might revive his Tour prospects but the Giro, which heads to Italy on Monday after a Grand Depart weekend of three stages in Ireland, is his sole focus.

It will be the second time he has rode the Giro and the fourth grand tour of his career.

Coming just nine months after he underwent shoulder surgery, it is a testament to the strong form he has shown since returning to competitive action in February.

Swift has recorded stage wins in races in Italy and Spain but it was a third-place finish at the prestigious Milan-San Remo classic in March, against a high-class field, that confirmed his return to form.

“The biggest thing is I’ve got my confidence back,” said Swift, who is Britain’s sole rider in this month’s Giro.

“Milan-San Remo proved I can still be in the hunt and that all the hard work is paying off. I know I can be competitive which bodes well going into the Giro with the team we’ve got.”

That team is one tailor-made for stage wins, even though nine of the sprint stages have uphill finishes. As well as Swift, Sky are full of men built to breast the tape with Edvald Boasson Hagen and CJ Sutton both capable of winning races, while Bernie Eisel and Salvatore Puccio are no slouches.

“It’s perhaps one of the first times in Sky’s grand tour history that we’ve got a group focused purely on the stage wins,” said Swift, who last rode the Giro in 2009 for Russian team Katusha. “We have got two guys for the general classification who are going to see how far they can go with it, but this is a rare opportunity in a Sky team.

“Guys that usually ride for the team are now given a chance to try for something for themselves.

“It’s kind of without pressure as well, as we’ve not had someone building up to this race for some time, as we’ve had in the past.

“We’ll split the opportunities between ourselves; Edvald will have days mapped out and I’ll have days mapped out for instance, but you just play it by ear; we’re all professionals and we all want to win but we all want the team to win. So if Edvald is not feeling great on his days he’ll let me know, and likewise.

“I’ll be happy if I’m mixing it in close, but my biggest goal is to come away with a stage win.

“I need to win a stage in a Grand Tour. I’ve gone close before so it would be nice to get one over the next three weeks. On paper it’s going to be me going for the sprints in Ireland this week, so hopefully I can get a good start.”