Feature Chat: Ben Swift (WorldTour Pro)

Chat with WorldTour Brit, Ben Swift who was 5th in the Worlds this year – we talk about lots of things including that race he’s podiumed twice on – Milan San Remo

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Feature Chat: Ben Swift (WorldTour Pro)

When ever I go back through the archives all the way to 2003, I find images of a young rider called ‘Swifty’.

Back then Ben was racing like a demon on the track (above). We were at major competitions as well for GB with Ben on the various development programmes for the national team before he started to make his name in teams like Barloworld, Katusha, Sky and now team UAE Team Emirates.

His palmeres is packed with great results. World champion in 2012 (Scratch race) as well as second in the Points and Madison and on the road, a stage winner in many a stage race like the Tour of Poland, Tour of Britain (2007), Tour of Picardie, Tour of Romandie, Tour of California, Basque Country and Coppie e Bartali.

And then of course, twice on the podium in Milan San Remo. At the Road Worlds, he was 4th in 2008 in the Under 23 Road Race and 5th this year in Norway in the Elite Mens event. That is just some of Ben’s results during a career that now spans a decade…

When we talk, with Ben at home on the Isle of Man, I start by asking what highlights come to mind as a youngster. “So many” he replies. “For me, going to race abroad as I started to do that from a very young age and also making a lot of friends. Like, my eight closest friends who I met when I was young, we grew up together and as it happens, most of us are in the World Tour together which is pretty amazing”.

10 years ago … 2007 Tour of Britain and Ben in his pro team, Barloworld.

Move forward a few years before his career took off and I follow up by asking when does he think the key moment was for him which led him to where he is now in the WorldTour? “The big change came when I joined the GB academy. I struggled and was just getting round races but that winter, 2006/07, I really developed and came out of that winter feeling like I was much more a complete rider and that affected my results that year and I was soon in pro teams and winning races.”

Fast forward ten years and after another season on the road as a professional bike rider where life can be pretty tough with crashes and so on, Ben is back in the ‘office’ preparing for next season. Asked did he feel as a youngster, that a decade on, he would be where he is in the sport that has always been his life?

“I wanted to be a pro but I didn’t know how it would turn out. It was all I ever wanted to do but I never said to anyone this is what I am going to do. I had no other career path planned out and this was what it was going to be in my head.”

Switching the subject to life as that professional bike rider and how he is spending his winter in 2017, Ben explained “I have changed the winter programme a little this year. The last couple of winters, I was running around a lot and burning the candles at both ends so this winter I have wanted to enjoy my break”.

“Having a little boy now, that has enabled me to stay in the one place and not be running around. I felt I have recovered a lot during that break and also I wanted to do a little track league and little bit of cyclo-cross and enjoy myself on the bike. So I had three weeks of that before I had a week away with Adam (Blythe) and our families”.

Swifty, as the results show that I get week in week out from the Manchester Premier Track League have Ben’s name constantly in the top four. Asked why the track league after a busy year as a world tour pro, Ben replies “I have really thought about it and I know I have slowed down a bit and my pedalling hasn’t been as good so I can only put that down to not having been on the track properly for three or four years.”

2006 and the launch of the 100% ME team and Ben all smiles!

“So this winter I wanted to get back on the track and do that training and the track league was a good way of doing it. It is so intense but you’re having a good laugh as well and it was like to going back to the old times. That was really refreshing.”

The Sheffield rider is hoping that the track work, and other changes, will help him have a better season in 2018 to the one in 2017. “I had an okay year in 2017 but it was far from ideal from what I was hoping and the standards I have set. I have a slightly different race programme next year so hopefully we’ll see some good results.”
Whilst the year may not have been great, he finished it with 5th in the Road Worlds and that helped restore any lost confidence he had. “That was dead nice for me to finish the year that way after a slightly difficult year”.

“Nothing really went right. If I look at the training, all that was good; the numbers were good for example, but it never came right in the races. I am hoping it was just one of those years where there was a lot of change (including his team) so it was nice to finish the year with a decent result.”

“Obviously I wanted more so I was happy but disappointed but I did have bad luck in the Worlds with a change of bike at a bad moment but I think that would only have helped me get closer to third as Kristoff and Sagan were head and shoulders above. It proves to me again though that they are the races that suit me. The long hard big classicy type races where everybody is at their limit at the end. They are the races I stand out in and get my best results”.

And his goals in 2018 I ask? “I have a little more of a focus in my calendar next year as well so hopefully we’ll have a good year. I just want to be the best rider I can be. I haven’t really got one race … obviously I want to do well in San Remo and the Grand Tours I ride, but I just want to be consistently good and want to try and win some races.”

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Training for Milan San Remo
It is a near 300 kilometre classic so steeped in history it is more than just a classic; it’s one of the Monuments of the sport and twice Ben has been on the podium. So how does he train for such a long race?

“I like to once every other week or so do a long ride. You can’t simulate the kilometres but you can simulate the hours so at least once every two weeks or training block, I’ll be on the bike for eight hours as that is the only way you can simulate it in a British winter. I have a good group of guys to help me with that sort of effort.”

“Otherwise, I mix my efforts between short intense days and long endurance days with that long endurance day.”

The training is on the Isle of Man where he lives. It has he explains, a fantastic cycling community and the Island provides plenty of roads for him to get in the necessary hours on the bike. “One thing about it” he says “is that the training is difficult and so general rule of thumb is you don’t need to do as many hours on the bike because it is so very taxing with the weather, wind and heavy rolling roads.

He only has a month of that left however before his training will shift to a warmer climate like the Gran Canaria, off the coast of North West Africa. “I will spend a solid block of training in January going to Gran Canaria twice for a week and in between hopefully get on the track and then once I start racing, the programme is pretty full on.”

Not only has his training changed this winter but his race programme too will be different in 2018 to the one this year. “This year I am not racing in January anywhere” Ben says. “It is quite funny that I feel like I am starting the season late when I’ll be racing in Dubai in the middle of February! The pro season is so long now.”

Although one of the goals is an Italian classic, his racing beforehand will be outside of Italy. After the Dubai tour, comes the Tour of Oman and then some Belgian classics. “I’ll see how they go with my shoulders (he’s broken them a few times) . I have only ridden Tour of Flanders so have little experience there but I loved Flanders when I raced it. All the Belgian races are gruelling events” he added.
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What about San Remo though – is that a tough race? “It’s not that difficult but the thing that is difficult is it’s so long” says Ben.

“I have done it in bad weather and good weather and the first 150km is a bit of a procession so you almost try not to count the kilometres. I split the race up like the first bit to the Turchino climb (near Genova) where I’ll stay in the wheels hiding.

“After Turchino, you have the coast road where it starts to build up to the Tre Capi (Capo Mele, Cervo and Berta series of climbs) and then you have the likes the Cipressa and Poggio and the final. It’s a long day and you are waiting, waiting.”

“The last edition I did was the easiest one I have done because it was a headwind all day so nothing could happen and the pace was slow and everybody was so fresh coming into the Cipressa (6km long, average gradient of 3.9% ,maximum ramps nearer seven per cent,) and Poggio”.

“It wasn’t a good race for me as I almost needed that climb they put in and then took out.”

The final section of the race is very chaotic added Ben. “It is amazing how small the peloton gets which you don’t realise because you are fighting with the same people at the front and it’s more a selection from the back which you don’t notice at the front”.
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“It is all about positioning… like this year I had slight issue when I got tangled with a rider and I lost maybe a few seconds but in that time I lost 30 positions and you then have to spend the whole of the Poggio (3.6km at 3.7 per cent average) making that up and by the time I got there (the front), that was when they attacked and I was on the limit. So with the Poggio, it is all about positioning because it is such a short climb and intense”.

“When you race the Poggio and Cipressa it feels very fast and most of the time you’re in the big ring and braking into the hairpin corners and stuff. They are unique climbs and once you get over the top, it’s a wild ride down the other side!”

With two podiums in the race, how will Ben’s goals change in 2018 in this Monument? “It will always be a target for me” he says. “We have Kristoff (a former winner) in the team now so it puts a different dynamic on things and may be that forces my hand to try a different tactic”.

“I have tried to sprint four times and been on the podium twice but I am not the fastest person in the peloton so I have got to try something. So with Kristoff on-board, maybe that is the push I need to try something different”.

So the final question to Ben was after ten years in the pro peloton, is the hunger still there? “Definitely. Sure, it’s my 10th year as a pro which is quite long time but I certainly have plenty of motivation, and still want to improve and be better. There’s unfinished business waiting for me in 2018!”

Thank you to Ben for the chat and I wish him lots of luck in 2018 and hope we see him on the top step many times! Go go Swifty! …



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