Swift rise to Tour de France action for Yorkshire rider

EIGHT mountain top finishes await over the next three weeks, but Yorkshire’s Connor Swift is on a high even before the first pedal stroke of a delayed and controversial Tour de France.

Yorkshire's Connor Swift. Picture Tony Johnson.

Cycling’s greatest stage race will begin in Nice today, two months after its original start date and with the threat of Covid-19 hanging over the 22 eight-man teams.

Organisers ASO’s decision to go ahead with the race has not been universally welcomed and, with parts of France on alert following an increase in coronavirus cases, some in the sport doubt it will reach the finish line on the Champs-Elysees in Paris in 22 days’ time.

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However, for Swift, the 24-year-old from Thorne in South Yorkshire, simply being part of the Grand Depart is a dream come true.

One of four British riders in this year’s edition, alongside Adam Yates, Luke Rowe and Hugh Carthy, Swift has been selected for the French Arkéa-Samsic squad, which will be led by yellow jersey contender Nairo Quintana.

It is Swift’s first time in a Grand Tour, the trio of three-week stage races run around France, Italy and Spain; only his fifth competition at World Tour level and a huge step up in class for a rider who stormed to prominence with victory in the UK road race championships two years ago.

Speaking to Cycling Weekly magazine, Swift – who was riding for British Continental team Madison Genesis just a year ago – admitted: “If you said to me at the beginning of 2019 I’d be riding the Tour de France and I’d be team-mates with Quintana – it’s crazy how things unfold.

“I’ve dreamt of wanting to ride this race.

“Especially during Covid everyone’s wanting to race because they don’t know if there’s going to be a season after it.

“It’s just massive to even get a place there.”

Quintana is a past winner of the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana and has finished second in the Tour de France twice and third once, but goes into this year’s race, which is one of the toughest of recent years, as an outsider.

Though hampered by a back injury, his fellow Colombian Egan Bernal, of Team Ineos, is fancied to defend the title, even without support from former champions Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas who have not been selected.

Bernal’s main opposition is likely to come from Primoz Roglic, of Jumbo-Visma, if the Slovenian has recovered sufficiently from a heavy crash which forced him to abandon the the recent Criterium du Dauphine.

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James Mitchinson