Interview: Connor Swift and that TroBro Victory

Former British Road Race champion Connor Swift won his first race for Arkea Samsic in a French classic, TroBro Leon – we chat about the victory


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Interview: Connor Swift and that TroBro Victory

Currently at home enjoying life and training hard before heading off to do a stage race in France later this week, I caught up with the winner of the 2021 Edition of Tro-Bro Leon, a race that dates back to 1984. Connor is the first British winner of the race.

The event was first run in 1984 as an amateur race before becoming a professional race in 2000. The race was established in 2005 as a UCI 1.1 event on the UCI Europe Tour and then in 2020, the event was awarded UCI Pro Series status. The cancellation of the 2020 edition meant that the inaugural event at Pro series level was in 2021 and won by Connor.

Tro-Bro Léon is often called ‘Le Petit Paris–Roubaix’ or ‘The Hell of the West’ due to its similarities with Paris–Roubaix. Tro-Bro Léon includes around two dozen sections of ‘ribinoù’ , which long time race director Jean-Paul Mellouët describes as a variety of farm tracks and unpaved roads on the rolling and windy roads of Brittany. These can feature cobblestones, dirt paths, and/or gravel and as Connor describes below, are not flat either!

“It was really good to get that victory” Connor replied when I asked if the victory had sunk yet. “I have been with the team pretty much two years and I do a lot of domestique duties so when I get the opportunity to race for myself, I take it with both hands. So to get the win the other day, I am just super super happy!”

Asked how the race unfolded, Connor explained “The group I was in went clear quite late on. There are about 26 off road sectors and with about 45km to go, you go up a farm track which is one of the hardest sectors. It is about 1.8k long and finishes up a steep uphill drag and we did that two times. The first time up there was when the race kicked off with around 40k to go. After that, the peloton was super whittled down, and on the next sector, we had five from Arkea Samsic in the reduced peloton.”

“(Warren) Barguil said we needed to start attacking so on the next sector, one of my teammates told me to go and I went and we caught what remained of the breakaway which was two riders and there were three with me so the six of us worked as group for about 10k. We then came to this short little steep climb with Ag2R chasing behind and a lined out peloton catching us at the top.”

“They (peloton) had gone up there a lot harder than we had and Barguil had been covering that and said to me ‘you have the legs, go again because the peloton were in the red basically. So an FDJ guy attacked, I went with him, and two bridged across to us and that was the group of four that went to the line.”

The talking point from the race was Connor’s slightly early celebration which almost cost him. Connor talks us through it. “I said straight after the race I didn’t want to look at the photo finish because I crossed the line and thought I’d messed up and lost the race win. It took a few minutes for them to confirm that I had won and the video that’s gone round of me screaming is more relief than anything because I thought I had thrown away a pro win in such a great race as well. So to think I had thrown it away and then find out I’d still won, I was super happy. I won’t be making that mistake again!”

For a rider like Connor, who does a lot of domestique work for the team’s sprinters or climbers and finishing well down result sheets, to prove he can win races is quite something so I asked does it help the motivation to know winning pro races is in his legs? “It definitely gives me confidence” says Connor.

“At the start of the season, it wasn’t so great for me. I had crashes, lost a lot of skin and was then on antibiotics. I raced Paris-Nice when not great still because I was recovering from my crashes, then missed Milan San Remo and had some bad luck in the classics as well. The start of the season was not in my favour.”

“Then I finished Amstel, had five days off the bike, totally reset the button, enjoyed two or three weeks being at home and then I raced Circuit de Wallonie on the Thursday and had super good legs and felt really confident of my form. We did a lead out for Dan Mclay and that went well team wise so I went into Sunday knowing I had good legs”

“TroBro is a race I really enjoy too, I was super motivated for it and everything came together on the day. I was going well at the start of the season in the races I had done previously but luck wasn’t on my side. So the win gives me confidence going into the future”.

“It is also nice I have got a win for my team Arkea Samsic. Just to get that result for them is huge because the team is Brittany based and it is one of the biggest races in Brittany that the team has wanted to win it ever since it was created. They have had the podium a few times so for me to pull off the win for them, they are super happy.”

For those of us who have never seen TroBro, but are well acquainted with the CiCLE Classic, which Connor has raced and finished 4th in (2018), I asked Connor how they compare. “TroBro has been going for 37 years and is normally raced a week after Paris Roubaix so it is a big French classic and the history of the winner winning a pig makes it special too. There are 26 sectors and these are long sectors.”

“The average length is one to one and half K, where as in the CiCLE Classic there are not as many sectors and they are not as long. The roads in the CiCLE Classic are rolling and can be quite big where as the roads at TroBro are super narrow where you’re going left and right all the time and you’re also right by the coastline so it’s super windy. So they are similar in some aspects but quite a bit different as well.”

The win for Connor will hopefully have showed his DS’s that the Donny (Doncaster) rider is capable of winning pro races and he gets given more chances to win races. Asked what is coming up for him race wise, Connor says “my next event is a four day stage race (Boucles de la Mayenne) starting next Thursday. After that, I have the Tour of Belgium and then after that it’s about ten days before the Tour de France starts so I am hoping I will be at the start of that. Hopefully the win has helped my chances of making the squad.”

This week since the big victory, Connor has been at home piling in the miles instead of a being at a training camp with his team. In between these lengthy endurance sessions, Connor has also done a few time trials.

Asked what he gets from doing these Time Trials, Connor replied “I go really well off such an effort – a 10 or 25 mile effort is really good. You can try and do it in training or up a climb but it is different when doing it in a race with a number on your back fully kitted up in the skin suit. I’m also in the TT position, not sat upright on a road bike and when on the TT bike you are using different muscle groups so I really enjoy the TTs. It’s a good training race and the Belgium stage race has a TT in it too so it’s good to get a few of them done”.

Finally, last week it was announced the British Road Championships are to be in Lincoln so to finish, I asked Connor was that a race he was looking forward to? “For sure it will be one of my targets, especially being in October. I’ll be racing Paris Roubaix a few weeks beforehand so I’ll hopefully carry some good form from that into the championships. All being well, Lincoln in October, there might be some bad weather on the day too so I’d enjoy that as well.”

“Wearing the stripes is amazing. It’s super good when you put on a fresh white jersey with the stripes and you feel a million dollars. It’s a great feeling and such a nice thing to win. So 100 per cent it would be great to take it back to Europe and keep it in the family (his cousin Ben Swift has the jersey right now).

Good luck to Connor in France starting Thursday when he races Boucles de la Mayenne.
Stage 1 — 27 May | 175km – Le Genest-Saint-Isle-Ambrières-les-Vallées
Stage 2 — 28 May | 173km – Vaiges-Évron –
Stage 3 — 29 May | 182km – Saint-Berthevin-Craon –
Stage 4 — 30 May | 181km – Méral-Laval


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