VeloVeritas has pleasure in bringing you an exclusive interview with new World Scratch Champion, Britain’s 24 year-old Sky professional, Ben Swift.
Swift’s first big road result was in 2007 when he took a stage in the Giro delle Regione in Italy.
At the end of that season he rode stagiaire for Barloworld but no contract was signed and for 2008 Swift was back in Italia.
That year saw him take more wins in the tough Italian amateur scene with victory in the Giro della Pace, Coppa Romita and a stage in the prestigious Valle d’Aosta.
With results like that, a pro contract looked very possible.
And sure enough, for 2009 the man from Rotherham signed with Russian Pro Tour squad, Katusha.
A third place on a Giro stage and second place on a Pais Vasco stage gave noticed that Swift was pretty swift in professional, as well as amateur bunch finishes.
The Tour of Britain gave him his first pro stage win and the future looked bright.
His winter was rather over shadowed though, by politics with the new Sky team desperate to get their hands on the young talent.
Riding in the blue and black of Sky he took a stage and the GC in the 2010 Tour of Picardie.
Last year was the breakthrough – there were two stage wins in the Tour Down Under, and one each in the Tours of Castilla Leon, Romandie and California.
But this season has seen Swift ride only one road event – the Three Days of West Flanders – as he tries to realise his Olympic dreams as a member of the GB team pursuit squad.
And whilst we don’t perhaps think of Swift as a track rider, he won the UiV Cup race (under 23 Six Days) at Dortmund with Geraint Thomas in 2005 and was a member of the winning GB squad in the 2007 European U23 team pursuit championship.
With desperately keen competition within the GB squad for places on the prestigious team pursuit squad, Swift missed the cut but opted to ride the scratch race.
Duly providing one of the major surprises of the championship to win the 15 kilometre bunch race ahead of the likes of up and coming road star, Elia Viviani, Dutch flyer Wim Stroetinga and Six Day foxes such as Andreas Müller.
Did you expect to ride the scratch, Ben?
“Yeah, I knew on the plane out to Australia that I was going to ride it – I said to management that I wanted to ride it even if I rode the team pursuit.
“I rode well in the scratch race in the omnium at the London World Cup and thought I could do a ride in Melbourne.”
What was the tactic?
“To try and keep it flowing, not go with too many attacks but not let any big moves go, either.
“You have to watch for someone slipping away to get a lap but it was always likely to end in a sprint.”
Who were the danger men?
“Viviani, Stroetinga is super fast – and the Aussie, Edmondson was always going to be going well with home advantage.”
You were in the break but then found a second kick to go alone.
“I had to dig deep – when the Austrian (Müller) went I could see it was a good move but I needed someone else to go across with.
“I found a gap and got with Viviani and the Czech (Blaha) – the Austrian had a half a lap on us but I could see that we were bringing him back, I could see every time I swung up from my spell.
“It was good to have that measure – then I hit out from the Austrian with one lap to go.
“The South African, Hoffman taking the silver was the surprise, I hadn’t heard of him but it’s good for the sport for a rider from one of the minor countries to be up there.”
Was jet lag a problem?
“I’ve raced in Australia a few times now, so I’m used to it.
“And we have the best possible support staff to assist us in getting over it quickly.”
You still have the points and madison; but did you get a chance to celebrate?
“Yeah, I had a couple of glasses of champagne with the team pursuit guys – and we had a pizza!”
What’s the plan for the points?
“I don’t know yet, I’ll need to see how the legs feel – it’ll be an interesting race.
“You have to be careful for riders going for the lap gain, but you have to get points on the board early – it’s a race where you have to think on your feet.”
And you have the madison on Sunday.
“It’ll be good; I’m looking forward to it.
“I think it’s 2005 since I last rode a madison with Geraint.
“It’ll be fun, there’s no pressure on us.”
What’s the stumbling block with you getting on to the team pursuit squad?
“I’m not sure; it’s something that I’m going to discuss with my coach, after the Worlds.
“Part of the problem is that we have so much strength in depth in the squad.”
Isn’t the uncertainty a problem for you in trying to further your road career?
“For sure, but it’s such a big year with the Games in London – everything’s for that.
“But it’s not like I have any pressure on me for road results from the team.”
What was your last road event?
“I’ve only ridden one, the Three days of West Flanders.
“I don’t mind the transition from road to track and back again; I usually go well off the back of a block of track work.”
And what’s next?
“The Giro, its three weeks after the Worlds and that’ll come around pretty quickly.
“The team’s coaching staff will giving me a custom made training programme to get me in to shape.
“I’m hoping to improve as each week passes, so I hope to come out of it in really good shape.”
London apart, what are the goals for 2012.
“A few more wins, just continue my progression, really.”
Last year was the breakthrough year for you.
“I think it was a combination of things – I was stronger and faster after having a good winter.
“I started well with the wins Down Under and that gave me the confidence that you need to go out and get the good wins.”
Your room mate from Katusha has found his legs, again?
“Pippo, yeah, he’s had some hard times but it’s good to see him back to form.
“When we see each other we have a chat but I haven’t seen him for a while, we rode very different programmes, last season.”
A World Scratch rainbow jersey is a ticket straight into the Six Days.
“I’d have to think about that one!”
And will you be asking Mr. Brailsford for a raise, now you have a rainbow jersey?
“And I’m not sure about that one, either!”