By Nigel Wynn
Ben Swift has been selected as one of Sky's nine riders taking part in this year's Tour de France. He joins fellow Brits Bradley Wiggins and
on the squad in his Tour debut.
As expected, British-based Sky's line-up is the same as the team fielded in the Critérium du Dauphiné with the addition of Swift. Sky rode very strongly during the Dauphiné, which was won by Wiggins overall and so it's no surprise that they wish to replicate that success at the Tour.
Swift is currently hot property, having won two stages of the Tour Down Under in January and stages in the Tour de Romandie, Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and Tour of California. He will be Sky's man in the bunch finishes and will come up against the likes of Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo).
"I am delighted that Ben Swift will be making his Tour debut, he is enjoying a breakthrough season with five wins already and he will absolutely thrive on this opportunity to test himself on the biggest stage of all," said Sky team principal David Brailsford.
Swift commented: "Competing in the Tour de France is what every young rider dreams of and I'm really excited about the challenge ahead. The team is riding well and we can't wait to get going against the world's best riders."
Wiggins aims for overall contention
Wiggins will spearhead Sky's hopes of an overall win. He placed fourth in the 2009 Tour for Garmin-Cervelo equalling Robert Millar's British record set in 1984, but finished 24th in his debut season for Sky last year.
One of the criticisms levelled at Sky in 2010 was the lack of support for Wiggins in the mountains. This was addressed over the winter with the signing of climbers Rigoberto Urán and Xabier Zandio. Anyone who watched the Dauphiné will also have been impressed with Edvald Boasson Hagen's domestique duties in the mountains.
Sky also have several options for stage victories, with Boasson Hagen able to take wins from bunch finishes, attacks and time trials. He has already won the points classification in the Tour of Oman and Bayern-Rundfahrt so far this season.
Bayern Rundfahrt overall winner Thomas will be hoping to replicate his Tour success of last year, where he finished second to Thor Hushovd on stage two and wore the white jersey of best young rider during the opening week of the race.
Juan Antonio Flecha and Simon Gerrans are established Tour stage winners. Classics specialist Flecha won stage 11 of the 2003 Tour and has since placed in the top ten of Paris-Roubaix on six occasions. Gerrans has won stages in all three Grand Tours: Tour de France (2008), Giro d'Italia (2009) and Vuelta a Espana (2009).
German road race champion Christian Knees was signed to Sky in January after losing his place on the defunct Australian Pegasus Racing team. All-rounder Knees will play a support role for the team, as well as keeping an eye on breakaway opportunities.
"This is a strong and balanced team with a real depth of talent to cater for all the race's challenges, from the team time trial to its high mountain finishes," said Brailsford.
"The squad have raced and trained together consistently well and are full of confidence after excellent results at Bayern Rundfhart and the Critérium du Dauphiné.
"There is a great blend of experience and youth in our squad. As well as riders like Bradley, Flecha, Simon, Christian and Xabier who have ridden the Grand Tours on numerous occasions, the line up also includes some of the peloton's brightest young talents in Edvald, Geraint, Rigoberto and Ben. We have a really exciting team that can't wait for 2 July."
Sky will change its kit from black and blue to black and green during the Tour to publicise Sky's Rainforest Rescue initiative, which aims to help preserve valuable rainforest in Brazil. Sky debuted the Rainforest Rescue green kit at the Tour of Britain last year.
Sky: Tour de France 2011 team
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
Juan Antonio Flecha (Spain)
Simon Gerrans (Australia)
Christian Knees (Germany)
Ben Swift (Great Britain)
Geraint Thomas (Great Britain)
Rigoberto Urán (Colombia)
Bradley Wiggins(Great Britain)
Xabier Zandio (Spain)
Wiggins wins 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné overall
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