Sky brass told those close to the team that Swift was leaving, but the 28-year-old has yet to confirm the move to TJ-Lampre. Cycling Weekly learned, however, that the deal is done already.
Swift rode with Sky for the last seven years, since its inception in 2010, and beforehand with Katusha in 2009 and as a trainee with Barloworld in 2008.
Two-time Giro d’Italia winner Giuseppe Saronni runs TJ-Lampre, and the Italian could be the perfect manager to guide Swift to a win in the Italian monument Milan-San Remo having won it himself in 1983. He also won the World Championships in Goodwood in 1982.
“I was third in 2014, 13th last year and second this time,” Swift said following his second place in Milan-San Remo this March behind Arnaud Démare (FDJ). “It shows it’s a race for me. I’ve got a few more years to keep trying.”
Swift would slot into a team that already includes Italians Diego Ulissi and Sacha Modolo.
Lampre-Merida appeared to be stepping down with second sponsor, Taiwanese bike company Merida, going to sponsor a new team from Bahrain. Saronni instead found a sponsor from China to continue the team into its 25th year.
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The team is due to be licensed in and become the first WorldTour team from China, but keep its Italian roots with Saronni at the helm and Colnago bikes under the cyclists.
Swift’s new team will take on a new name of a Chinese company as TJ is the holding company created to support various cycling initiatives.
“The goal is clear: to get the Chinese back on their bikes. Wherever you go there you find a mass of cars. They have to address the problem of pollution, obesity that’s on the rise, and dreadful traffic. They are studying a project of 1000 miles of bike lanes,” Saronni told La Gazzetta dello Sport in an interview last week.
“The government decides everything there, and in our case the sports ministry. We don’t have a deal directly with a sponsor, but with the TJ Sport society, which is specifically created fund to bring in money.”