British rider Ben Swift quickly settles into life at the UAE Abu Dhabi team as he builds up to this year's Milan-San Remo
The 29-year-old opened his season with the squad, which he has transferred to after a seven-year tenure at Team Sky, at the Tour Down Under on Tuesday, conscious of the number of weeks to the first Monument of 2017 on March 18.
Swift channelled uncertainty into more driven training over the pre-season as his new team management scrambled to find a sponsor to secure its WorldTour licence after a deal with Chinese backers collapsed.
“It was in the back of my head but I was trying not worry about it too much, or as much as you can do,” Swift said of the team’s beleaguered state that was relieved only last month.
“If you ask my close friends and family, maybe it was affecting me a little bit but I was trying just to focus on my training and have confidence in the management to sort it out. I’ve got other people to sort out that, and worry about that, if nothing was happening.
“For me, it was just all about trying to focus. Perhaps that drove me on to have better training because I was just focused on what I was trying to do.”
UAE Abu Dhabi is effectively an incarnation of Lampre-Merida and Swift said still has a strong Italian influence that he hopes to learn from, with Sky’s ‘marginal gain’ philosophy less subscribed.
“There’s a lot of history and knowledge inside the team that’s not all about technology and looking for the one percent. It’s about actual racing and that feel for it. A lot of the guys in management have won big races in the past where it’s been about racing and using your head. Hopefully we can take a bit of knowledge from that,” he said.
Swift has left his comfort zone in the transfer, going from racing with teammates he has grown up with to knowing just a sports director he worked with in a one-year stint at Katusha in 2009.
“It is really different,” he said. “You appreciate how difficult it is for foreign riders coming into such a strong bonded team, like Sky, to integrate. I’ve noticed that a little bit because it is such a strong community that they had at Lampre. Luckily, I’ve fitted in really well right at the start. They appreciate that I can’t speak full-on Italian yet but when we’re one-on-one I can communicate and talk to them.
“I’m learning quite a lot each day, which is really good,” he continued. “I wanted that challenge and that new experience of learning another language. I’ve always quite envied people that can speak multiple languages, so it’s quite a good opportunity to do that now.”
UAE Abu Dhabi was active in the opening stage of the Tour Down Under, at a point driving the peloton in the fast finish that sprinter Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) won ahead of Danny van Poppel (Sky) and Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe).
Swift enters the 19th edition he said in good condition and already intently focused on Milan-San Remo, which he has developed an affinity with over three starts, placing third in 2014, 13th in 2015 and second last year to Arnaud Demare (FDJ).
“I’ve worked a lot more on my base so this race should kick start that top end,” he said.
“The Tour Down Under is no longer a race that you can just turn up to and roll around. It’s a hard race. Milan- San Remo is nine weeks on Saturday, I think, so you’ve got to be in at least good form [here].”