Sky Procycling's Ben Swift Recounts His First Tour de France
Ben Swift's love affair with the Tour de France has barely started, but 24 hours after leading the peloton onto the Champs Elysees and cycling's most famous finish, the Sky Procycling rider can reflect on completing the world's biggest bike race.
AP Photo/Christophe Ena
"Amazing and the realisation of a childhood dream" is how Ben Swift describes finishing his first Tour de France, before glancing through the window and making a telling remark.
"I almost wish I had another week to go."
The hypnotic effect of the world's most beautiful sporting event summarised perfectly.
Witnessed in the Pyrenees through the eyes of Thomas Voeckler with yellow on his shoulders and in the Alps with the daring of Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, the 2011 Tour de France was a very public display of affection - and one with which Ben Swift is now impossibly entwined.
From making it over Alpe d'Huez, to the perfect last dance, leading the peloton through Paris with fans chanting his name, the Team Sky rookie rode le Tour in its purist form - with heart, passion and instinct - three qualities visible when Swift talks of his final fling of a holiday romance on the Champs Elysees.
"You can't describe the feeling when you get into Paris; the circuit is turned into an arena. When I attacked I got excited, the crowd went nuts as I passed them alone. For that time I was in the moment - I didn't even feel my legs. Normally I don't race for a solo breakaway, but this time was different. It wasn't a mad thing, it was an amazing thing."
But in contrast to the confidence of the final stage, Swift remembers different feelings on the opening day and admits being uncharacteristically nervous.
"The first day was manic, I was actually scared at times. In places where you would normally have sixty guys, there would be eighty guys. Normally I am pretty good at moving through the peloton, but that first day especially took me back, you were inches from danger at 40mph. If I'd have stopped to look around, I would have probably stopped there and then."
As it turned out Swift was right to be worried as in 2011 the Tour claimed thirty-one riders - including team leader Bradley Wiggins, who was forced to retire with a broken collarbone.
For Team Sky, it was perhaps the toughest moment since Wiggins' lacklustre performance in the 2010 Tour; but one year on, a different mentality was present and a flurry of attacks, breakaways and a second stage victory followed.
With action every day the chances to relax were rare, but on the penultimate day Ben recalls a moment of calm on top of Alpe d'Huez with Geraint Thomas and Simon Gerrans.
"We went through each stage, picking out something that happened; it's quite hard to remember it all, but once you started talking a lot of things started flooding back. The whole experience went really fast and it will take a while to sink in. It's special to be able to say you've done the Tour, I was speaking to G about this on the run into Paris and it's the classic question you get as a cyclist. The difference is, now I can say I did it. I raced the Tour de France."
With the Tour complete attention turns to the London Olympics, which Ben will detail in British Cycling's Member News on Thursday.
Luke Webber interviewed Ben Swift at CNP's headquarters. An ambassador for British Cycling's official supplier, British Cycling members enjoy up to 40% off all CNP product. Join British Cycling today!
Keep updated on Ben's latest news at his official website.