“I was actually on the turbo when the news came out so it gave me that extra bit of motivation,” says Ben Swift when I ask him about Yorkshire winning the right to host the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart.
In fact, Swift spent most of the winter on the turbo trainer after undergoing shoulder surgery, but even then, in mid-January and before a pedal hard been turned in the 2013 season, the 25-year-old was already thinking ahead to July 2014.Ben Swift (left) crashed during the opening race of the 2013 season but hopes to return to the peloton later this month
“I never thought the Tour de France would be coming to my home county,” says Swift, who hopes to return to racing at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the opening race of the Belgian Classics season on February 23, after crashing in Majorca earlier this month.
“All those years I used to watch the Tour as a kid, I never once thought it’d be coming to Yorkshire.
Swift is, along with neo-pro Josh Edmondson, one of two Yorkshiremen on Team Sky’s roster, and next year’s edition of the Tour de France will present the pair with the chance to ride the world’s biggest race on home roads.
Both, however, are well aware that merely making the British-based team’s Tour de France squad is a significant achievement in itself.
Swift rode the Tour for Sky in 2011, when team leader Bradley Wiggins crashed out with a broken collarbone, but the team has since assembled a formidable line-up of super-domestiques who helped Wiggins and Chris Froome to a British one-two in 2012.
“To break into that Tour de France team is going to be super-hard,” says Swift. “It’s 18 months away but it gives me an idea of where I need to be to get selected.
“For me personally it’s going to be a big aim to try and get into that Tour de France team and I’ll just be doing my best to make it there.”Swift was part of Team Sky’s Tour de France squad in 2011
Yorkshire has long been a British cycling hotbed, producing past riders including Brian Robinson, who was the first Briton to win a stage of the Tour de France in 1958, Barry Hoban, winner of eight stages of the race, and Malcolm Elliott, the first British rider to win a points jersey in a Grand Tour after success at the Vuelta a Espana in 1989.
And Swift is among a number of current professional riders to emerge from Yorkshire, along with Edmondson, Olympic road race silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead and double Olympic gold medallist Ed Clancy. So what’s the secret to the country’s success?
“There’s a real will to work hard,” he says. “Yorkshire men are real grafters.
“Everyone just loves it. If you go out on the local club runs, you can get 60-80 people out at the right time of year. Everyone’s just really passionate about the sport and the Tour coming home is just going to be amazing for cycling in Yorkshire.”
Up to two million spectators are expected to line the roads of Yorkshire when the Tour comes to town, spending two days in the county before a third stage which starts in Cambridge and finishes outside Buckingham Palace in London.
The 101st edition of the Tour will start outside Leeds Town Hall on Saturday July 5 and stage one will finish in Harrogate with an expected bunch sprint in Harrogate which could see former Sky man Mark Cavendish take the yellow jersey in his mother’s home town.
“The first day will definitely end in a sprint but I’m not so sure about the second day,” says Swift.
This season sees Swift move away from stage racing and try and break into Team Sky’s Classics squad, mainly as a domestique but also as team leader himself in races where his climbing ability and fast finish puts him in the position to win from a select group.
The second stage in Yorkshire will also have a Classics flavour about it and Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme compared the terrain to that of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, one of the toughest Classics in the cycling calendar, when the route was unveiled last month.Stage two of the 2014 Tour de France features six climbs, including the ascent of Holme Moss, inside the final 60km
The parcours includes six climbs and 1,400m of ascent in the final 60km, including the climb of Holme Moss in the Pennines. The finish in Sheffield is a stone’s throw from where Swift grew up in Rotherham and the 25-year-old knows the route, run over his local training roads, better than most.
“It’s different to a normal day in the Tour de France,” says Swift, who describes the route as “typical Yorkshire”.
“The climbs aren’t hard and long like the Tour de France, but it’s just the style of the climbs and the British roads. It’s so different to European roads, the British roads are so heavy and draining.
“Riding British climbs is weird because they’re so open and draining. They’re not smooth and flowing, it’s such a slog.”
It’s a sentiment most British cyclists will share but it’s terrain on which Swift could thrive.
It’s terrain typical of the opening week of the Tour under Prudhomme’s leadership and, while not selective for the general classification contenders, it should rule out many of the pure sprinters who go elbow-to-elbow for victory on day one and the prospect of winning a Tour de France stage on home roads is not lost on Swift.
“It’ll be a sprint from a select group, and definitely not a full-one bunch sprint,” he says. “It’ll suit someone like Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert and, hopefully, me.”