Ben Swift is looking to make the most of any opportunities that come his way at the Tour de France this summer, as he prepares to return to the race for the first time in six years after moving from Team Sky to UAE Team Emirates.
The 29-year-old Yorkshireman spent seven years racing at Sky but found his chances increasingly limited in the squad the last few seasons, before transferring at the end of last year.
The first and only time Swift raced at the Tour was 2011 when the team was built around Bradley Wiggins’s tilt on the victory, and although he’s raced at the Vuelta a España and Giro d’Italia since he’s hoping to enjoy more freedom if he makes it to the start line in Düsseldorf with his new squad.
“The Tour’s still on my programme at the moment. Obviously everything has to be finalised but at the moment that’s still the plan,” Swift told Cycling Weekly from Sierra Nevada, Spain where he’s spending two weeks training.
“I think I’ll be able to enjoy it a lot more this time. Last time I was still quite young when I rode the Tour and I was in quite a high-pressured environment, we were going there with ambitions to try and win the Tour with Bradley.
“[I’ll be] able to go there in a completely different frame of mind where I can look in the road book and try and pinpoint stages and stuff like that.”
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South African Louis Meintjes, who finished eighth overall in the Tour last year, will lead the UAE team’s GC charge, but Swift is hoping to have some freedom on the flatter stages that suit him.
“We don’t have to take any ownership of the race,” Swift continued. “It’s just making sure he’s [Meintjes] OK, we don’t need to ride on the front or anything like that.
“Because I’m not a proven Grand Tour stage winner we can’t go in there saying ‘I want to do this, I want to do that’, I just want to go there, see what we can do, take my opportunities and see what comes up.”
Though Swift said he’s enjoying his time with the new squad, he’s endured a frustrating 2017 so far, with illness hampering one of his key goals Milan-San Remo and an ankle injury ruling him out of Amstel Gold last month. He’s next due to race the Critérium du Dauphiné on June 4, before the British Road Race National Championships on the Isle of Man, and the Tour.
“I’ve integrated with the team well, everything’s gone well in training, everything’s gone right it’s just been that last little bit in the races. The racing’s not quite gone my way,” Swift said.
“My condition’s been good, all the numbers have been there, I’ve had a little bit of a bumpy time with a little bit of sickness and damaging my ankle before Amstel Gold. My main goal was Milan-San Remo; I was sick after Paris-Nice, sick through San Remo, I just kind of fought through that really. It’s been one of those things; it’s not gone right.”
Swift started his career as part of the British Cycling Academy programme, before turning professional with Katusha in 2009. He joined Sky the following year when the squad formed, and teamed back up with many of the British riders he grew up racing with.
After seven years in the Sky setup, Swift admitted it had been “daunting” when he initially made the move to UAE Team Emirates this year.
“It [the team] was different, it was a little bit daunting at the start,” he continued. “Obviously I know everybody from racing but I don’t know them personally. Everyone’s been really good I’ve got on well with them.
“I’ve done most of my time with the same core group – we’ve done a lot of the same races together. I’d definitely say I’m starting to make some friends in the team now, I’m still working on my Italian and stuff like that.”
Swift’s personal life has also undergone a big change this year too, with the arrival of his first-born son in February.
“It’s been really good. Me and my partner have got a good little system now where we both get optimal sleep,” he said.