Ben Swift is confident his bid to ride in the Tour de France in his home county will not be thwarted by his troublesome shoulder.
The 26-year-old from Rotherham returns to road competition on Sunday, six months after ending his 2013 campaign prematurely to undergo surgery on an injury that had held him back for the best part of three years, writes Nick Westby.
He contests all four races that make up the Mallorca Challenge before heading to the Middle East to support Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who is opening his season at the Tour of Oman from February 18.
It is a hectic schedule on Swift’s return and will provide the perfect test of his recuperated shoulder, which he first put under duress over the winter on rides around South Yorkshire and at a training camp in the Balearics.
“Technically I’ve been riding the last three years with a broken shoulder, so it’s going to take time to get back to a normal feeling,” said Swift, who won a scratch race on the track at the Manchester Velodrome at the weekend.
“It’s definitely stronger, I just need to get over that fatigue in it now.
“To get it back to it’s normal state could take a long time.
“But I feel race fit because I’ll put up with anything I’ve got that is recurring.
“It’s about the muscle patterning and imbalance now because I’ve been working for three years with a bad shoulder.
“Stuff like that can take a long time to come back from.”
It was during the Mallorca Challenge last year that Swift suffered a nasty crash that aggravated the injury.
He soldiered on through the Spring and summer but took the decision at the Eneco Tour in August to draw a line under the year and concentrate all his efforts on what could be a career-defining 2014.
Swift completed the Tour de France in 2011 for Sky but in the two and a half years since the world order in cycling has shifted, with the British squad turning the wheel quicker than anyone.
Tour de France victories for Sir Bradley Wiggins and Froome have transformed Sky into the dominant force, with their support riders now among the best in the business.
It means the task facing Swift and his fellow Yorkshireman Josh Edmondson in making Sky’s nine-man roster for the Tour de France which begins in Leeds on July 5, is harder than ever.
To carve out a niche for himself, Swift has channelled his energies into becoming a sprinter over the past seasons and is currently behind Edvald Boasson Hagen and CJ Sutton in the team’s pecking order.
That is why February is so vital for Swift, who is the designated sprinter in Sky’s eight-man squad for the six-day stage race in Oman, and races in Boasson Hagen’s absence at the Mallorca-opening Trofea Palma on Sunday.
He knows that to press his claims to be chosen ahead of Boasson Hagen and Sutton he needs to go well this month, and put any concerns about his shoulder, out of his mind.
“For me it’s getting that confidence back, because for whatever reason, riding with the bad shoulder you don’t fight like you’d normally fight, you don’t go for the gaps like you normally would.
“So you’re always starting your sprint from 10 places back of where you’d normally be. Then all of a sudden you find yourself in that scenario week in, week out. You can always lose your confidence, but once you break the ice, hopefully the wins will start coming more often.”
On his sprinting style, Swift adds: “I’d say I’m a bit more in the bracket of a sprinter like Peter Sagan or a Matt Goss, where we can sprint in the bigger groups but we prefer it a bit hillier.
“If I come up against a Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish or Andre Greipel, nine times out of 10 we’ll always get beaten.
“But if it’s a lumpy, hard, hillier circuit, that’s where we come into our own and that’s what I’ve been working on.
“I’d like a stage win, it would be nice to start the season off well.
“First and foremost, I’m looking to stay upright.”