Interview: Ben Swift

Riding his first Tour de France is a young Yorkshire rider who cut his teeth on a bike as part of the Rotherham chain gang and is now mixing it with the very best in the World.

In fact, Ben Swift is one of the best in the World himself after five professional victories in 2011 so far  starting off in the Tour Down Under before the season in Europe got going. His run of form in 2011 has seen him selected for the Tour de France where he hopes to get a chance at a stage victory.

Talking the week before the Tour de France started, he explained “the season so far has been great and I never expected to have a season like I have had. I think it’s because of the confidence I gained at the Tour Down Under where I was racing against practically every sprinter in the peloton there and whilst they may not have been on great form, I wasn’t in the best form either.”

“In Castilla y Leon, where I had Russell (Downing) leading me out, I got another win and with every win, your confidence gets better and better. I think it’s down to both experience and progression physically. I’m getting older and stronger and am now in my third year as a pro.”

“The biggest thing that has helped me this year though has been the winter foundation I laid down. I did the most amount of kilometres and the most structured training I have done during a winter and that put me in such good shape coming into the season, that I could actually race having gained a new level”.

Ben, who has suffered over the last few years from some injuries at the start of the year,  also admits that being injury and illness free this year has definitely helped him as he hasn’t had to keep going back to square one.

“I have had a really balanced year” he goes on to say. “I did the Tour Down Under and then had a break to train for the track and that didn’t go to plan which was disappointing because I’d left really good road form to go and do that. Whilst I was on the track, I saw people I was beating in the Tour Down Under winning three or four races in events I could have been racing.”

“But then, had I got selected for the Worlds, I’d have been happy.”

“After the track block, I came out and had a really good road training block. This year, I’ve had nice training blocks between races where I have been able to train quite a lot and then hit the races rested and I’ve seen the difference.”

Asked if doing the Tour de France and other big races as a professional has changed his perception of needing to do the track, something  as a youngster he thrived on being a real racer of a track rider, Ben replies “doing well on the road definitely makes the decision harder.”

“It is not so much about wasting my time on the track because I if I won Olympic Gold on the track then it would make it a very successful season but it is a hard decision to make when you have seven or eight guys going for those spots on the track when, if you’re not a clear favourite, it’s going to be hard to make that call.”

Ben is not the first top British professional to come back to the track from the road and find it difficult to make the change. Asked what he has found the hardest, he replies “for me, the difficult part of adapting to the track was the cadence. I really couldn’t do it this year.”

“I’d done less on the track during last winter and did much more road training which slows your cadence down a little bit. I still have a fast cadence for a road rider but for what you need to do in a Team Pursuit, like 135 revs per minute, I just couldn’t hold it. I could hold it for a little bit but …”

“… it was like that in the Omnium too which was quite embarrassing in front of a home crowd”.

Ben is quick to remind people just how special those who compete at the highest level on the track are as riders. “The track is not easy and I think people forget that. Sometimes, you think I have good form so I’ll come onto the track and dominate but they are such different styles of riding.”

“They do complement each other but it’s about finding that right balance to get the form right.”

In stark contrast to the track is the three week long mountainous Tour de France and when asked has he had long to prepare, Swifty replied “because I’m not a GC contender, I don’t need to prepare any different to what I would for a normal race. If I was going there for the GC, I’d like to know quite early so you can get in the high mountains but for me I’ll go there and do my job like I would in any race.”

He admits that the Tour de Suisse was the perfect build up for a race which will see him as a domestique for team leader Bradley Wiggins. “My role in the team is to first help Bradley and the sprints come second” he says.

“The main goal is support Bradley because this year he has a realistic chance of finishing on the podium so to support him when ever I can would be great. On the flatter stages, I can certainly do that but when we get into the high mountains,  I’m not going to be able to help in the same way as some of the other guys can though.”

“On the intermediate stages though, if I’m there supporting him, and still there at the end when a lot of sprinters aren’t, it would be a win win situation for me being able to go for a stage victory”.

“My work generally depends on what position Bradley is in for the race. If he’s in the Yellow jersey, then the sprints are going to be sacrificed and I’ll be on the front with the other guys. The work will also involve keeping him sheltered, making sure he’s okay and out of the wind and we have a really strong team of guys to do that.”

Alongside Ben in the team is another young rider who has already ridden the Tour de France twice, Geraint Thomas.  Asked what it is going to be like to have some one who Ben has spent so many years riding with, the latter of those years in the GB Academy, Ben says “It is quite surreal being here with G (Geraint Thomas) and for it to happen so soon.”

“I always had a dream of riding the Tour but for it to be this soon is a surprise. I thought it would happen after the Olympics but as it has turned out, I’ve had a more successful season than expected and been given that opportunity. To have a lifelong friend like Geraint riding alongside me who has ridden the Tour before, definitely makes it more special as its someone to enjoy that first Tour experience with.”

His selection for the Tour also brings back more memories of his early years but this time with the Rotherham chain gang which he has grown up with as has a Sky teammate of his, Russell Downing. Whilst Ben lives much of the year in Italy and also has a place on the Isle of Man, he does relish going back to where he grew up in South Yorkshire.

“The guys are definitely pleased for me because it’s not every day that someone on their chain gang is riding the Tour de France and on the Friday after it was announced, everyone including Eddie at the café knew and were really happy for me. I’m looking forward to getting back on that chain gang after the Tour!”

“It was great to come back and ride the lanes where I once dreamed I would ride the Tour de France even though I’m not sure any of the guys on the chain gang thought I’d achieve it!”

Getting to where he is says Ben, is down to hard work. “I like to work hard and you only get out what you put in. Once you know you’re being considered for the Tour, that gives you that little bit more drive to work harder still.”

“To get selected in such a strong team is an honour.”

Good luck to Ben and we’ll bring you news of his Tour experience when we can. See VeloUK features box for the latest on the Brits in the Tour de France.

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