Ben Swift has had to wait six years for his second attempt at a Tour de France.
Back in 2011, the Rotherham racer – traditionally a sprinter – was employed as a domestique, riding in support of Bradley Wiggins as the Briton fought to win a first Tour de France for himself, Team Sky and his country. Wiggins crashed out that year midway through the race, leaving Swift and Sky bereft of a figurehead and minus any real targets.
In the following years as Sky’s credibility grew on the back of victories at the world’s most famous race for firstly Wiggins and then Chris Froome, so their roster grew in strength.
As the world’s leading riders started coming into a team that was at the vanguard of marginal gains, so Swift found his chances limited.
They were so limited in fact, that even speaking on the eve of the 2016 season 18 months ago, he told this newspaper that he would be leaving the powerful British squad at the end of the year in an effort to carve out more opportunities for himself.
Like a footballer on the fringes of the action at a top-four Premier League club, Swift found himself falling down the pecking order and in need of first-team opportunities.
In the past, I worked for the team, now I’m happy that the team has entrusted me with trying to be as competitive as possible in the stages that suite me most.Ben Swift
He has found that again in 2017 at UAE Team Emirates, a long-standing World Tour team that for the last few years was known as Lampre-Merida until a sponsorship change.
Swift has gone in to his new team as one of UAE’s leading lights and he returns to the Tour de France after more than half-a- decade as one of two sprinters tasked with winning stages over the coming three weeks. That internal battle will be raged with Diego Ulissi, who finished second in last Saturday’s Italian national championship as opposed to the fifth place Swift managed in his own national event on the Isle of Man.
Nevertheless, the Yorkshireman starts today’s time-trial in Dusseldorf re-energised by his move and optimistic about the opportunities ahead.
“This year at the Tour de France I will live a new experience, because I’ll have the freedom of taking my opportunities,” said Swift, 29.
“In the past, I worked for the team, now I’m happy that the team has entrusted me with trying to be as competitive as possible in the stages that suite me most.”
Those stages, sadly, are not that plentiful over the coming weeks. Swift is a cyclist in the mould of world champion Peter Sagan – a sprinter who can also climb – and may have to work especially hard for victory.
Stage seven into Nuits-Saint-Georges offers the first real chance by which time we will know what Swift has in his legs. He has not tasted victory for UAE yet this season, but encouragingly finished second up Alpe d’Huez at the recent Criterium du Dauphine.
He has not actually won a race since 2014, but this is new territory for Swift – leading a team – and it will be fascinating to see how he fares.