Interview: Ben Swift - Team Sky

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Swift by Name, Swift by Nature -- Ben Swift

January 9, 2010; by Larry Hickmott |

Related Features: Peter Kennaugh | Russell Downing | Team Launch |

The twenty two year old rider from Rotherham in South Yorkshire is another example of the great talent this country has in cycling. Ben has been a member of the GB team for many years and has a best placing of 4th at the Under 23 Road Race Worlds.

The first pro win is always special and this one for Ben at the Tour of Britain will always be memorable. Photo:

In the run up to the Team Sky Launch, there were two potential signings which were in the headlines of the media, that of Wiggins and Swift. Both were already contracted to other teams and for Swift, that period of transition was a little distracting as the ‘will I or won’t I’ get to ride for Team Sky went on for months.

So you can imagine the relief he feels to have finally been confirmed as a Team Sky rider. Now, contract sorted, Ben can concentrate on his training and getting fit for the Tour Down Under which starts on January 19. If ever there is an example of how important Team Sky is to British riders, it is the contrast between Katusha and Team Sky. In the former, Ben was isolated many times with the language barrier and whilst the team helped him to his first pro victory (a Tour of Britain stage) and also help him show himself in the Tour of Italy (3rd on a stage), it is with Team Sky that he truly feels at home and among friends.

Speaking of friends, as a Rotherham rider, he is one many pros who come from that area of England around Sheffield. One of the country’s most famous ever pros is from that Yorkshire city, Malcolm Elliott, but it is another long standing pro who last year produced one of the most sensational rides in a pro race all season – Russell Downing in the Tour of Ireland, who has been Ben’s training partner.

“I have been training with Russell quite a lot” Ben explained “and it’s been good. He’s been very supportive as has another mate, Adam Blythe, and we have had a real good training group.”

“The conditions for training have been good and it’s only been in the last few weeks when the weather turned bad that it’s been difficult. I got back on the turbo though and that brought back some memories!”

Ben is referring to a time when he was injured early season not so long ago and he was showing just how dedicated he is with four hour rides on the turbo at home. “Russell and I did a three hour session on the turbos one Saturday morning and that was different having some one by the side of me also on the turbo. Every time I was going easy he was going hard and vice versa – it was good fun” said the former King of the Mountains in the Tour of Britain

As any cyclist knows, training on the turbo can be excruciatingly boring and so perhaps these two have hit on something – group turbo training sessions! As Russell explained in his interview (click here to read), Ben and Russell also did heat chamber training at Manchester as   they prepare for their first race of the year, the Tour Down Under in South Australia.

This race Ben says, is one where he expects to be playing a team role, saying “I know that Greg (Henderson) and CJ (Sutton) are going well and we’ll be out there to perform well as a team and support them. Then I have a training camp and then another four races on the road before I’m back in with the Great Britain boys for the Track Worlds.”

Ben looking relaxed as he rode onto stage at the Team Launch in London on January 4.

Back on track
The Team Pursuit on the Track is, says Ben, a big aim of his at the moment and then after that, he’s going straight back onto the road with Team Sky. “I surpassed my expectations at the Manchester World Track Cup in the Team Pursuit and so the 2012 Olympics is a potential goal.”

“Because I didn’t taking a kicking at the World Cup (Manchester), I wanted to push for a spot in the Team Pursuit at the Worlds. Each race in the Team Pursuit has been decision time for me – if I hadn’t performed well at the World Cup, then I would have had to think about something else but as it went okay, the next step is the World Track Championships. If that goes well, then it will be full steam for the 2012 Olympics to try and get into that team.”

Ben’s chance at riding the Track Worlds is an example of how having the national team and a pro team closely linked can help both the teams involved. One question directed at team principle Dave Brailsford during the Team Launch presentation on Monday (Jan 4) related to how running a team like Team Sky will impact on Team GB?

The boss of both the GB and Sky teams started by saying that if he felt there was ever  going to be a negative impact on Team GB, he would never have embarked on the project of Team Sky. “My own belief is that that Team Sky will actually help improve British Cycling's prospects at the London 2012 Games" he told the packed venue.

Dave then went on to describe how many of the GB endurance riders who will ride the London 2012 Games will be riding for professional teams prior to those Games and that in the run up to Beijing (2008),  because the riders were spread over many teams, that  didn't always help Team GB.

Ben Swift rode the first round of the Team Pursuit at the Manchester Track Cycling World Cup in 2009. He now has his sights on a ride in the same event at the Worlds.

"In the run up to the last Games, we faced a difficult challenge in liaising with the teams for our riders to get the best race profile possible to get the best out of themselves in the Olympic Games and to help GB qualify places for specific events at the Games. Now that a large number of those riders are part of this team, it will be much easier for us to manage that.”

“So, totally against the common view that I might be diluting my efforts across two different things, I actually feel it (being head of two major teams) will strengthen my efforts."

Backing this up is Ben Swift’s experience. “With Katusha, they gave me a great race programme on the road and a lot of opportunities but I wasn’t getting the opportunity to ride the track” he told me. “It was a straight ‘no’ and I know with the rides I had in 2009 for the team there would have been no way I’d have been allowed to go to do the track in 2010”.

A break through season on the road
For any young rider, even one who has on a number of occasions won races at Under 23 level and also finished in the top 10 at major championships like the Europeans and Worlds, making that switch to the pro level can be daunting and a step into the unknown. It didn’t start great for Ben at the Tour of Qatar but for sure, it got better, a lot lot better as he says.

"I'm really pleased with my first season," says Ben. "I think I'm more surprised than pleased though. I never expected to ride the Giro, then to get placings there (a 3rd), and to finish - that's what I was most happy about."

"I'm massively grateful to Katusha for the opportunities they gave me, but coming to Team Sky feels like coming home, because I know so many of the support staff and the riders."

Two friends, Russell Downing and Ben Swift, out in the cold at the Team Sky rider around St James Park.

“Last year I learnt quite a lot and the biggest thing was to relax. I have had the pressure of ‘am I good enough to stay with the pros’ taken away from me and now I can go to the start of a race and relax. I know how it kind of goes and I can save that nervous energy for the finish.”

“The key thing here at Team Sky is the whole atmosphere and how everybody clicked. When I was at Katusha, I was on my own and no-one really spoke to each other as everyone was in their own ‘group’. It was though great to be in the Katusha team with Robbie McEwen. When I was younger, I had pictures of him on the wall and this year we talked on the phone and he gave me lots of advice. It was though a shame we never got to race together.”

Ben, like almost half the Sky team, will be living in Italy where he says since the Academy set up shop there four years ago, each year more and more of the British riders have moved there and now it’s like a little Britain. With his first race now only ten days away, the Tour Down Under, Ben is relaxed and confident that he can continue to progress in the pro ranks. He had his first pro win in 2009 and says “the goal now is to perform quite regularly. There is no pressure coming from the team – only from within myself. Now I want to take it to the next level and win on a regular basis.”

Swift, sprinting for second with the winner only a few seconds ahead, is third in his group and fourth in the 2008 Under 23 World championship

Good luck to Ben Swift …

Ben’s Bio on the Team Sky website


Team Sky Launch -- Report & Photos

Team Sky -- How you can stay up-to-date -- Team Website