Fresh from racing the sunny Dubai Tour, Ben Swift arrived under grey skies and in temperatures not much above freezing to ride some of the route of the London Cycle Sportive.
The chosen loop took in the iconic hairpin bends of Box Hill, made famous by the London 2012 Olympics. Swift gave advice to the group on climbing and descending, before overseeing a race to the top.
Once the riding was done, Swift sat down for a chat with Cycling Weekly to lay out his plans for the coming season, and longer term ambitions such as the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Following third place in the 2014 Milan-San Remo, Swift made it clear that the 2015 edition is his big early season goal.
"It’s the one thing I’ve been thinking about all winter. On paper it was always a race that suited my style of racing and then to go there and get that result last year gave me the confidence to set it as a target," said Swift.
The course of this year's route has been changed with the finish returning to the famous Via Roma, where Eddy Merckx took all seven of his victories. This change shortens the parcours by one kilometre, and moves the finish line two kilometres closer to the descent of the Poggio, changes that could be decisive when the selection is made on the final climb.
Swift has been preparing for the season's first monument, and feels it's been going well.
"I think the biggest difference is I’ve had no setbacks this winter, I’ve had no injuries. I had a solid year last year where I got a full race season in," he said.
This foundation has set up a strong start to the new season, with Swift winning an intermediate sprint and getting in the mix on stage finishes at the Dubai Tour.
Away from Milan-San Remo, Swift will not be racing any of the cobbled classics this year, but may head that way over the coming seasons.
"I would like to step back into the classics group a little bit. Obviously the races that suit me [are] around that time," said Swift.
This May sees the inaugural edition of the Tour de Yorkshire, a race Swift will be planning to ride to make up for the disappointment of missing out on selection for 2014's Tour de France, which started in the county.
He'll be starting his home event with ambitions of racing and performing well, "[I'll] definitely to try and win a stage first and foremost," he said.
"There’s no time trial, there’s going to be select groups hitting the finish line so it could be a good race to try to perform in overall. It’s a home race so I’ll have good motivation."
After being edged out by teammate Peter Kennaugh in the 2014 British National Road Race, Swift will be returning to what he calls a 'special race' to go for victory. It's also a chance for riders to have a tilt at the victory, free from team orders.
"You get to wear that jersey for a year, and it’s a race that we actually get to race in a completely different way than we normally race," Swift added.
"It’s good just to attack your teammates. I enjoyed that last year with me and Pete going at each other a little. But this year it’s going to be pretty tough; it’s got an uphill cobbles finish on Michaelgate, so it’ll be a good race."
Looking further ahead, Swift has previously talked about his ambitions to get back on the track in time to compete in the Omnium at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. He's clear, however, that this is far easier said than done.
"It all depends on how it goes really, with like the team pursuit and stuff," he said. "I’ve gone down the road of trying to do the team pursuit but, I haven’t really got any ambitions to be in that team pursuit [squad], and whether that then has a impact on how you get selected for the omnium."
Asked his opinion on the idea that the official approach to track cycling might be killing it off, which is a concern Mark Cavendish has voiced, Swift agreed: "At the moment trying to qualify for the omnium with the points and stuff it’s just so hard to do the races that you need to do. They’ve made doing the track so hard, it’s just making it very selective of who can ride it and stuff like that. It just puts a different perspective on it."
Ben Swift is an ambassador for the London Cycle Sportive taking place on May 10. The ride uniquely ends with a lap of Herne Hill Velodrome. There's more information at humanrace.co.uk/cycling
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