The British team have opted not to select one particular leader for the UCI Road World Championships’ elite men’s race, but cousins Ben and Connor Swift are former national road race champions and Tom Pidcock, at just 22, is one of the most exciting emerging talents in cycling, having ridden his first Grand Tour this year and won gold in the Olympic mountain biking event.
Other outstanding performances in 2021 have included victory in the Brabantse Pijl and top six finishes at the Amstel Gold, Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne, Strade Bianche and La Flèche Wallonne one-day races.
Mark Cavendish, world champion 10 years ago, is also in the Great Britain team, alongside Ethan Hayter, Luke Rowe, Jake Stewart and Fred Wright.
The only other British rider to win the sport’s top one-day race was Tom Simpson, back in 1965 and against formidable opposition, the GB squad will start as underdogs.
However, Ben Swift – the 33-year-old, from Rotherham – insists they are not in Belgium just to make up the numbers.
“I think we can win it,” said the 2019 national champion, who – like Pidock – rides for Ineos Grenadiers. “We’ve got Tom who has won around here before.
“He is not afraid to get stuck in and be aggressive and we have got a lot of options as well.
“We’ve got a guy [Cavendish] who won four stages of the Tour de France.
“I think the way this race is going to go, it is going to be aggressive from an early point and we’ve got a team that lends itself to that style of racing.”
The 268.30km course starts in Antwerp and the first riders are expected across the finish line in Leuven around six and a half hours later.
“Having seen the course, it’s going to be quite interesting,” added Ben Swift.
“I think it is going to have to open up quite early, so it is going to lend itself to an aggressive race.
“Our team is really well-balanced, really strong and quite young as well, with some strong leaders.
“I think the riders that are in form at the minute are going to ride aggressively, this course lends itself to aggressive riding quite early, you can’t wait until the end, I think.”
The Worlds, staged in Yorkshire two years ago, are the finale to the road race season and Ben described 2021 as a “difficult year”.
Of his own form, he said: “It was quite intense at the start and I didn’t do much in the middle of the year, when my second son was born.
“It has been a bit strange, but I have been slowly getting better; each race has got better, I have done a lot of racing and hopefully I’ll have a good race on Sunday.”
Connor, 25, from Thorne, completed his second successive Tour de France in July, three years after his national road race victory.
“I am happy with where I am at,” he said of his preparations for tomorrow.
“I feel like I am in good form and looking forward to Sunday. It is the biggest one-day on the calendar, a massive event.
“To be here, representing GB is great and I am super-excited, especially for the fans who will be on the side of the road. It’ll be a real experience, it is going to be good.”
Though the demise of the Tour de Yorkshire is a setback, the White Rose county has been growing as a cycling hotbed since staging an unforgettable Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014.
The Broad Acres’ strong representation in tomorrow’s race is more evidence of that and Ben stressed: “Hopefully it inspires younger kids, seeing us here, especially with Tom having a solid chance of winning the Worlds. It is great.”
By definition, the Worlds attracts the best of the best, but among all the top contenders this year, Belgian Wout van Aert, riding on home roads, stands out.
“He is on flying form recently,” said Ben Swift.
“The standard big names who have been dominating throughout the season – van Aert, [Mathieu] van der Poel, [Julian] Alaphilippe and guys like that – will be the favourites.
“I’d really like to see an underdog or someone unexpected win the race, but we will have to see.”