Team Sky’s Ben Swift is not used to plotting against Sir Bradley Wiggins but will have a close eye on his former team-mate at this weekend’s inaugural Tour de Yorkshire.
Wiggins left Team Sky earlier this month to head up his new eponymous development squad and will make his first appearance in their dark blue colours when the riders set out from Bridlington to Scarborough in Friday’s stage one.
Despite his pedigree, the 2012 Tour de France winner is considered an outsider to win in Yorkshire as he will have one eye on his upcoming attempt to break the Hour Record, but Swift is not counting him out.
“We know what he can do,” Swift said. “Everybody knows you can’t give him any room because if he gets 10 seconds you won’t see him again.
“But we have good riders in our team, real strength in depth, and it should be a good few days of racing.”
Rotherham-born Swift missed out on selection for the 2014 Tour de France and the festival of cycling which took over his home county last July - but this year he will lead Sky’s eight-man squad in a race which is a direct legacy of that amazing weekend.
With a rolling route which should suit a punchy sprinter like him, the 27-year-old is feeling extra motivation.
“The Tour de Yorkshire is a massive goal for me,” he said. “It’s my home race and we don’t get to call too many races home.”
Time bonuses for stage wins, and the potential for two bunch sprints in three stages, make it a difficult race to call.
Stage one is billed as one for the sprinters but they must first survive testing climbs in the North Yorkshire Moors, not to mention often fierce winds up on top.
The second stage, from Selby to York, looks a much more straightforward sprinter’s day, but Swift described the third stage, a 167km ride from Wakefield to Leeds incorporating much of last year’s Tour de France route in reverse, as “brutal” and it may well decide the overall outcome.
Wiggins is the headline act on the bill, closely followed by Giant-Alpecin’s German sprinter Marcel Kittel, who won the opening stage of the Tour de France in Harrogate last year.
But Kittel will be racing for the first time in two months after illness, and Swift is looking elsewhere for the men to beat.
“I don’t think a pure sprinter can win (overall), but I think someone who can handle the punchier climbs quite well might,” Swift added.
“On paper it should suit me but also a guy like Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) who can climb a bit better. It’s so hard to predict, anything could happen.”
Swift has started the season strongly, impressing at Milan-San Remo and taking a stage win and second place overall at the Coppi e Bartali - but he pushed himself so hard in Italy he has needed a break before taking on his home roads.
“I took a five-day break just to let myself refresh,” he said. “I had such a heavy early season, I had so many big goals and pushed so hard for them I needed to chill before I could look ahead again. It was the right time for a breather before I dug myself into too much of a hole.
“I feel good on the bike again and I’m looking forward to this weekend.”
*Ben Swift was speaking on behalf of Yorkshire Bank, an Official Partner of the Tour de Yorkshire.