Ben Swift will relish wet and tricky conditions in World Championship road race
Ben Swift is smiling as the forecast for Sunday’s men’s elite race at the UCI Road World Championships continues to get worse.
Dark clouds and heavy rain are expected throughout the day as riders are tasked with riding 280km, starting in Leeds and passing through the Yorkshire Dales to Harrogate, where they will complete seven laps of a finishing circuit.
They are not the sort of conditions many will relish, but Yorkshireman Swift will feel even more at home if the weather turns.
“I tend the go well when the conditions are quite bad and when it’s on a long hard day,” said the 30-year-old, who will lead Britain’s six-man team.
“I do like those miserable sort of days.”
Swift admitted he might need a helping hand from somewhere to be a contender in a race in which most eyes will be on Belgium’s powerhouse of a team – which includes Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet and Remco Evenepoel – as well as contenders such as Holland’s Mathieu Van Der Poel, Slovakia’s three-time former world champion Peter Sagan and Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe.
But bad weather on already grippy roads will make for an attritional race. That would suit Swift, fifth in the Bergen World Championships two years ago, just fine.
“I’ve always gone well in hard one-dayers,” said Swift, who recovered from a ruptured spleen in February to become British road race champion in June.
“We’re by no means the out and out favourites, but we’re the home nation and we’ve got a lot of strong riders in the team.
“Hopefully we can just fly under the radar a bit and get the best result possible. Obviously we want to win, to get that jersey would be amazing, but if you got a podium you’d be really happy. If I got a top-five to replicate Bergen I’d be happy.”
Swift is Britain’s Plan A, but not the only option in a team that includes 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates, Owain Doull, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Ian Stannard.
Thomas has ruled himself out of contention. The Welshman, who withdrew from Wednesday’s time trial due to the cumulative fatigue of a long season, said he was riding purely to help others.
“Without sounding too negative, it’s just not gonna happen,” Thomas said of his own chances.
“Some people find that hard to believe when I say that. But you know as an athlete how you’re feeling.
“You know what you’ve got to be like to be performing up there. It’s just not gonna happen, no matter how much I want it to, but that’s just the way it is.”
A more likely Plan B is Yates. The Lancastrian suffered a disappointing Tour de France but has taken time to recover since and – as a former winner of Clasica de San Sebastian and the GP Industria & Artigianato – the 27-year-old has some one-day pedigree.
“It depends how the race turns out,” Yates said. “I think everyone has done recon now, everyone knows how hard the course is. I think it’s a lot harder than on paper.
“The roads are so grippy, you feel every climb. If it’s windy over the top of those climbs it could be carnage.
“Swifty is the main man with the course how it is and the hard finish he’ll be a major player, but if I get in the right move at the end then you never know.”