I haven’t raced since September 1st. I’ve been working hard though, on Swift Momentum Sports (SMS), and restoring an old building and of course, some training. SMS is doing pretty well. I’m glad to have shown people some fantastic cycling and running, as well as to have trained some very good athletes. My professional cycling career, however is pretty much over. I wasn’t renewed for the 2014 season.
I want to continue racing, I’ve got a lot to give and a lot to improve. If I can’t race, working within the sport would be fantastic too. I would be good in many roles within the sport. Maybe if all goes arse-ways and I have to leave I’ll set up my own team some time into the future. The fact I feel tranquil now is the fact I’ve got an education, a business and I have lived my dreams as a cyclist. I’m looking forward and I’ll keep riding my bike. I love cycling.
It’s my third Volta a Portugal and I really feel lucky to get here. My form is good, possibly the best ever. Obviously I get the odd pang of paranoia; I think twice if I drink a beer, worry about food - kind of stupid really. I slimmed down by three kgs for the Volta, which is basically my lightest ever racing weight and only now am I realising I’ve got margin to loose more. One thing about being a roulleur/domestique here is that there’s really no pressure to loose loads of weight like the climbers, who have to get really skinny. There was the usual presentation for the Volta. We were in a mad rush and it was stressful.
This race is the last tune up for the Portuguese peloton before the biggest race of the season, the Volta a Portugal. A lot of the teams turn out very strong for Agostinho, as it's known. The amateur teams also turn out strong since the race is a 2.2 and the pinnacle of their calendar, aside the 'Volta a Portugal do Futuro'. British teams have had good performances in this race. Last year Endura lost the yellow jersey of Iker Camaño only on the last day. And the year before that Ian Bibby had an excellent showing but fell apart under the onslaught of the Portuguese teams on a very hard circuit race on the last day. My team won the last two editions of the race.
I haven't written on this blog for a while. The reason for this was that I was kind of getting tired of whining on about bad luck, hard times and other problems. No one wants to read that and no one cares. So I decided to keep calm and hang tight till good news come along. The good news that has come my way is that after an incredibly tough three years suddenly I have some breathing space regarding 'making a life', as well as my future as a cyclist.
So I'm home now after the Volta ao Algarve, which, like always, proved to be very hard. The stages were all mammoth 200k slogs on twisty-turny roads through the hills. The stage finishes were a bit sketchy and the whole thing was topped off by a 35km TT through the hills on bad roads which were wet for the first half of the race. I suppose this epic parcours was chosen to try and compensate the reduction in number of stages this year (four versus five in previous years) but I don't think the ProTour guys liked this idea very much as they were complaining bitterly.
The season has started, my sixth season as a professional. The weather here has been brilliant (a little cold at 10-12ºC) but always sunny and it's been fantastic training up for these races. It's such a pleasure getting out the in the hills working away, seeing all the beautiful views and interesting things, testing my form on the climbs. Of course for the Volta ao Algarve bad weather is forecast and I go badly in bad weather, but we'll deal with that as it comes...
I haven’t written since the penultimate stage of the Volta a Portugal. I have been wary of writing bullshit in such stressful, emotional times. I don’t like to speak of the problems in cycling, since I find them so boring. It’s the first thing anyone outside the sport mentions when I say I’m a cyclist. The Armstrong fiasco affected me quite a bit. I was one of those kids that took to the roads because of the Armstrong myth. My mum, Kate Swift, died of cancer when I was 19 during my first year at university. Armstrong was a huge motivation for her and I, or at least gave us reason for optimism. That winter I watched my first bike race too: the Volta ao Algarve; won by Floyd Landis.
The stage started with a ceremonious 37km where we pottered along behind the winners. I felt awful. I found it very hard to congratulate David Blanco. I told him so. I felt crap, humiliated, embarrassed; it was the first time the reality of loosing the race had sunk in. David is a friend, he’s a very intelligent and interesting guy. He’s off to work in Africa next month, his record of five victories in the Volta a Portugal set, I said I’d visit him and I’d really love to one day, finances and career permitting.
What a FARCE. My TT bike was exactly at the right length when I came to this race, yet at the prologue they told me it was 1cm past the limit... It was duly cut and shortened. Today, remarkably it was 2cm passed the limit! Did the bike grow? No, it was bloody measured with some contraption a 10 year old might have bashed together. It’s a disgrace.
I wasn’t able to update this immediately as we had a nightmare getting to the hotel and only arrived at 12sh. This race started in the highest city in Portugal, Guarda. It’s the queen stage and one that sees us climb the only hors category climb of the race, Alto da Torre.
The first stage after the rest day is a bit tough. The rest day can do more harm than good and I for one like to just keep on going, to get it over and done with. Today we were given the same orders as before the rest day, which was to make the race difficult for whoever was meant to be controlling. Hence I attacked pretty much as soon as the race started and it stuck, I was joined by another 13 or so and we got stuck into a long day in the break away.
I had a bad day today. It was just one of those days where I just felt crap. I pushed through, did my work at the beginning, attacking, jumping across to break away and the like, but didn’t get away. I nearly got lucky when I and Yelko Gomez from Caja Rural got a space, but that was reeled in by others trying to bridge across. For the rest of the stage I’d occasionally go to get water, but that was it work wise.
This stage was a tough one, we had a huge mountain right at the start and several others to follow. The roads were crummy also, which made descending awkward. I was told to save energy and cart water about. But I felt brilliant, it was one of those days I had to temper my enthusiasm. I escaped on that big mountain at the beginning about half way up and then at the top also. It was great fun.
Last year this stage wasn’t so hard since we had four ‘rouleurs’ rather than just two this year. The race started in the beautiful town of Viana do Castelo and ended on a large mountain called ‘Senhora da Graça’ it was epic. This region is called Minho and it’s nothing like the rest of Portugal, it’s green and mountainous, looks like some mountainous part of the British Isles - but feels much warmer! I had my work cut out today.
We’re in the Minho, in the far north western corner of Portugal. It’s a wonderful place and feels like home away from home. It’s tough for racing though, it’s extremely hilly; you never go well, you’re never comfortable.
Today was brilliant! No long transfers this morning and I didn’t have very much to do. It was fantastic, a rest day practically. United Health Care (UHC), a US pro continental team set the pace and controlled the entire stage expertly. It was great watching them work I got the impression that perhaps they’d be even more effective somewhere like Belgium.
The day started with a long transfer from our hotel in the magnificent town of Covilhã situated at the foot of Serra da Estrella. We’ve been run of our feet with with reconaisance, various signings on and parading around the palce... It’s been a tough few days just for the fact we haven’t had any proper rest, or training since last Saturday, our last day at home. Today’s stage was terrible, it felt like I had no extra ‘oomph’ I did my job okay, but didn’t manage anything special. I think this was mainly due to the hectic days spent mostly seated in a car.
Such a big fuss is made about the Volta that people forget there are other good and important races on the calendar. As ever, we put all our eggs in the one basket. I never really understood this. We’ve been training hard for ages now. Real killer stuff up to 6 hours in length. Recently in training we had 46ºC and I felt utterly rotten, it was like sitting in front of a hair drier for three hours. It’s cooled down recently and I sincerely hope we don’t get temperatures too far above 40ºC.
I raced the Trofeu Joaquim Agostinho this weekend past weekend. The Prologue was very tricky, very technical. I did my best and I was very pleased. I didn’t have any great expectation for it, which was a good thing as I missed quite a lot of my warm up, due to everyone going berserk when my team mate and Time Triallist Alejandro Marque broke a gear cable just minutes before he was due to race. I also haven’t touched the TT bike since February.
The nationals are one of my favourite events of the season. The race is strange because I have no specific job to do, no pulling on the front, no marking, no driving the break and no one to let down apart from myself. The first British Elite Championships I took part in were in 2008, somewhere in Yorkshire. I went with the guys front An-Post, who helped me out a lot in getting to the race and finding a place to stay. It was an adventure. I drove on the ‘wrong’ side of the road for the first time up to the race in a van we had borrowed to get there.
The last few weeks have been reasonably uneventful. We had a heat wave which was wonderful, but which only lasted a week. The team did a few races in Spain (I was resting) and won a stage in Vuelta as Asturias, which was excellent. I once did that race and it was probably the hardest I ever did. The weather seems to change from valley to valley and the place is very mountainous.
At the Volta ao Alentejo I spent the majority of every single stage on the front of the bunch controlling the race. All four days. Our sprinter was quite well placed to win the race, so I was quite happy to do this.
Although my season started over a month ago in Argentina, the Portuguese season opened on Sunday the 12th February with the "2nd Trofeu Cidade de Luís", followed by the Volta ao Algarve. There were a few things that really limited me during this first Portugese race.
A quick update from Argentina, and it's a tale of bad luck and hard-going.
Well, I've never seen anything like that... Not the Tour of Britain, not even the "GrandÃssima" (Volta a Portugal). Maybe only the opening of the Tour of Spain in Seville a couple of years ago was up to the scale of this "small" event here in the middle of Argentina. We are like rock stars here.
After an eight hour car journey, fourteen hours in planes and a lot of hanging around, came the bus ride from Mendonza to San Luis. Mendonza is a wine producing region and is heavily farmed. For hundreds of kilometers there are well arranged crop and dispersed housing, like an endless suburb. It's not picturesque.
My season kicks of in a few days at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina. I've never been to Latin America, so I'm a bit apprehensive - Brits aren't the most popular in Argentina, but it's probably just paranoia on my part.
Hi, my name is Tomás Swift-Metcalfe. Tomás is Portuguese, the Swift element is Irish, and Metcalfe is English. I'm a "Euro-mongrel", but I'm very much at home in Portugal. I race with a British UCI licence, not Irish or Portuguese, because I relate somewhat with the multicultural/multinational nature of the place.
Stuart Balfour’s win in the supporting u23 race to the GP Ouest France Plouay, one of the most prestigious amateur in France, was special. The Dave Rayner Fund thought so too and made him their ‘Rider of the Year.’ As well as his Plouay success he won in Montpichon and at the Ronde Briochine; he was top 20 in the tough Kreiz Breizh UCI stage race and top 10 in the Tour de la Manche. Nice results in what is still one of the sport’s Heartlands and races are hotly contested. We thought we best have another word with the 21 year-old from Heriot in Scotland.
We recently spoke to 15 mile, 100 mile and 12 hour record holder, Alice Lethbridge and now to ‘complete the set’, here's what 10 mile, 25 mile and 50 mile record holder, Hayley Simmonds (WNT-Rotor Pro Cycling) had to tell us.
‘Well Phil,’ the words that we all remember so well, used by Paul Sherwen when he was about to put co-commentator Phil Liggett right about something during one of the hundreds of Tour de France stages the pair covered for TV networks from England to Australia via the USA. Sadly, we’ll hear that catch phrase no more, the 62 year-old Briton having passed away in his sleep at his home in Kampala in his adopted nation of Uganda on Sunday.
We caught up with the man behind the team and the holder of the record for most British titles won in one season – eight – Dan Bigham, after he returned from a successful foray to Canada where round two of the Tissot World Cup took place on the boards of the Milton Velodrome in Ontario where the men in black came away with silver.
Here at VeloVeritas we’re pleased to inform you that we’ve hooked up with ace cycling snapper, Gary Main. You may already have seen some of his images in our Mark Stewart and Dan Bigham interviews? We thought it might be a good introduction to his work for our readers if he picked out some of his favourite shots for us - over to you, Mr. Main...
He’s been quiet, that man Mark Stewart, Scotland’s reigning Commonwealth Games Points Race Champion. But he’s back with four World Cup medals on two continents within a matter of days. Best ‘have a word’ we thought to ourselves...