Despite breaking his collarbone in February, Ben Swift was arguably the best under-23 rider in Italy this year, winning three races and consistently finishing in the top 10.
He was fourth in the road race at both the under-23 European and World Championships and also rode for Great Britain at the Beijing Olympics. He has developed massively thanks to the Academy set-up in Tuscany and can even cook a decent meal for his team-mates.
CW: When Barloworld failed to offer you a place for 2008 you were rightly disappointed. Have things turned out for the better?
BS: Yes, definitely. Looking back, I?m happy I didn?t turn professional with Barloworld because I?ve learnt how to really win bike races this year. I won three big races in Italy, finished second eight times and had 25 top tens this year, which shows I?ve been consistently good.
What specifically have you learnt?
BS: Last year on the Academy was such a big learning curve that it was difficult to take it all in but this year I?d got all the basics sorted and so could focus more on my racing. I knew the races and my rivals and I was stronger and more mature. Each of my three wins were different and I?ve learnt from them all and from my results, good and bad, in other races too.
Your early season on the road was affected by a complicated broken collarbone. How did you deal with that?
BS: I actually thought my season was over when I crashed in Los Angeles and definitely didn?t think I was going to go to the Olympics. I had written down a little plan for the year and when the doctor told me I couldn?t ride on the road for 15 weeks, I almost ripped it up.
There were different medical opinions about having an operation and in the end I wasn?t able to ride on the road for 13 weeks. I missed a lot of early season goals but I trained hard on the turbo, doing hours and hours of work and that meant I wasn?t far off some good form when I started racing again in April.
Did you learn something from having to train so much and so hard on the turbo?
BS: I definitely think I managed to lift my pain threshold. I was doing four-hour sessions on the turbo and that taught me not to complain when I?m out suffering on the road.
I also gained a lot of power from it. I used to lack quite a bit of power but while I was training on the turbo I focused on keeping my weight down and upped my power quite a bit. I?m going to take things I?ve learnt about turbo training and use them this winter.
The extra power and ability to suffer must have helped because you went on to have a great year and finish fourth in the European under-23 road race and take fourth in the Worlds.
BS: Two fourth places but no medals was disappointing but at least it shows I?m consistent. It also shows the Academy is consistent after Jonny Bellis?s third place last year.
To be honest I?m pretty happy with my rides at the Euros and World Championships. I made a few mistakes in the Worlds, which I?ll learn from, but in the finale I was cramping up all the time and did well to fight for position so that I wasn?t dropped. The Colombian [Fabio Duarte] who won it was strong and made a clever late attack but I didn?t have much left for the sprint.
You also took part in the road race at the Beijing Olympics. What was that like?
BS: It was a brilliant experience and something I?ll never forget. I would have liked to have finished but it was one of the biggest and hardest races of the year and when it kicked off and they started going hard, it was really hard. It was amazing how fast the pros went up the climb, but I suppose it is something I?m going to have to get used to.
Swift during the 2008 Olympic road race in Beijing
How did you get your contract with the new Russian Katyusha team?
BS: I haven?t signed a full contract yet because of the UCI bureaucracy, but everything is agreed. My results prove I?m consistently good in under-23 races and Max Sciandri has played a big role in helping me get my contract. From what I?ve heard, their development team people also talked a lot about me after racing against me in Italy.
It?s basically a Russian team and one of the sponsors will apparently be Gazprom. With the likes of Robbie McEwen, Gert Steegmans and Filippo Pozzato in the team, it means we?ll be doing all the big races. I don?t know what my race programme will be but we?re due to meet up soon for the first get-together and that?s when I?ll find out more.
Your season ended after the World Championships in Varese. Have you had a holiday?
BS: I?ve been enjoying a few weeks off since Varese and I?m having a real holiday at the end of this month. I?m going somewhere warm with Geraint Thomas, Matt Rowe, Dale Appleby and Rob Partridge. It?s the third year we?ve done it, so we?ve got to keep the tradition going. I?m sure we?ll all be a bit hungover most of the time and get laughed at on the beach because of our funny cyclists? sun tans.
Are you going to combine racing on the track with being a professional on the road?
BS: I hope so. I?m going to keep racing on the track whenever I can because I want to keep my track legs. My goal is still to ride in the points race and the Madison in London in 2012. If not, I?d like to be part of the road team, perhaps leading Cav out in the sprint so he can win the gold.
Will you base yourself in Italy next year?
BS: Yes. Definitely. Geraint has a little flat in Quarrata, Tuscany, where the Academy is based and I?m going to share that with him. I want to keep my base there because it?s a really good area for training and there?s also back-up from the Academy there.
I?ll be in the big world now as a professional, without the protection of the Academy, but hopefully everything I?ve learnt over the last two years will help me in my professional career. I can?t thank Rod Ellingworth and Max Sciandri enough for what they taught me and I?d recommend the Academy to any rider who gets the chance.
You have to do your own cleaning and cook your own meals at the Academy, so have you learned how to make a decent plate of pasta?
BS: I?m not a bad cook. We had to take turns to prepare the evening meal in the house in Quarrata. My best dish was a cod and rice combo with vegetables and broth thrown in. It?s quite nice, does the job and the lads seemed to love it.