Team Sky’s British sprinting ace Ben Swift is on the road to recovery after an injury-disrupted 2013 season and cannot hide his delight at being back on the bike again.
The Yorkshireman suffered a knee injury when he crashed on the final day of the Mallorca Challenge in February, and his comeback was cut short when a long-standing shoulder injury forced him to curtail his season early in August.
But the 26-year-old, a former world champion on the track, believes the decision to end the year early and undergo a shoulder operation is already paying dividends.
“I’m feeling good actually,” he told RCUK. “The shoulder’s starting to get a lot, lot better now so it’s starting to feel good on the bike.
“It’s still feeling a little bit sore but other than that we’re getting there.”
Swift enjoyed an encouraging start to his season in Mallorca, before crashing, having finished third in the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca and enjoyed two further top-ten finishes.
But his crash cost him his Classics season, and the Rotherham-born rider struggled for form on his return, despite finishing fifth in the points classification at the 2.HC-classified Bayern-Rundfahrt.
Looking back, the shoulder just deteriorated throughout the year and I think subconsciously it was getting to me too, because I wasn’t fighting for position like I normally do
Swift’s WorldTour results this season amounted to one top-ten finish apiece at the Tour de Suisse and Tour of Poland while he finished tenth against a strong field at the RideLondon Classic.
And he admits his shoulder injury was a major cause behind his form.
He explained: “It had a lot of impact on my 2013 season – looking back, it just deteriorated throughout the year and I think subconsciously it was getting to me too because I wasn’t fighting for position like I normally do.
“I wasn’t pulling on the handlebars. I was perhaps twisted and using different parts of my legs that I wouldn’t normally use. It just got to the point in the Eneco Tour where we said, look my season’s finished.
“I just couldn’t accelerate around the corners or pull on the handlebars or anything like that and it just got to the point where enough was enough, and I just needed to move forwards.”
While injuries are never ideal for any professional athlete – and Swift admits his time off the bike was frustrating – the fact his operation came at the end of the year is a slim silver lining for him however.
“It feels really good to be back on the bike,” he said. “I’ve been dying to get back on for ages.
“Obviously as an athlete, you like your break and you look forward to your end of season break but it’s only normally three weeks and I’ve had a total two months off my bike.
I was compromising my season anyway, I wasn’t performing as I wanted to and if I was to carry on I could have compromised next year as well
“It was a hard time, but I’m glad to be back now. The fact it’s come at this time of the year was part of the logic in the thinking behind it.
“I could have had pain relief in my shoulder to get me through to the end of the season but we had to look at things – I was compromising my season anyway, I wasn’t performing as I wanted to because of my shoulder and if I was to carry on I could have compromised next year as well.”
The approach differs to last season when Swift broke his shoulder on a training ride, ruling him out of the Giro d’Italia, but made a remarkably quick recovery and rode on to the end of the season.
Showing little signs of any after-effects of the injury, Swift went on to win two stages at the Tour of Poland – topping the points classification in the process – before earning two top-three places during an impressive showing at the Vuelta a Espana.
But he admits a similar approach this season just could not have worked out.
“I wanted to have a good winter, and a good, solid two months before the training camps and hit the season running,” he said.
“The best way to do that was to finish my season early and to get it so I could start training when I wanted to start training.”
Now on the recovery trail, Swift is desperate to recreate the form which has earned him seven major stage wins and one overall victory, at the Tour de Picardie, since joining Sky at their inception in 2010.
And with the Tour de France Grand Depart set to take place in his home county next year, he admits earning selection there would be a major honour for him.
I’ve been saying it’s the dream come true, but you never dreamed of the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire. That will be an amazing experience
“My biggest aim really is not any specific race, it’s just to try and get back to winning races and just have a successful year all year round,” he said.
“Obviously the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire is the pinnacle though.
“I’ve figured lately, I’ve been saying it’s the dream come true, but you never dreamed of the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire.
“As a kid you used to watch the Tour de France and dream of being in it, but not once did you actually think it would come to Yorkshire and go along the roads that I grew up on.
“That will be an amazing experience, and it would be amazing to be a part of that.”