Ben Swift is hoping to capitalise on his late but welcome call-up to Team Sky’s Giro d’Italia squad by securing a first Grand Tour stage win.
The 26-year-old sprinter had not previously been scheduled to ride the three-week race but was added to the nine-man line-up following a fruitful spring campaign in which he took a surprise third place at the Milan-San Remo one-day Classic in March.
Team Sky had originally been planning an assault on overall victory at the Giro with Richie Porte, but after deciding the Australian should concentrate instead on helping Chris Froome at July’s Tour de France, the team’s Giro focus has now shifted more towards picking up stage wins.
Swift, who followed up his Milan-San Remo heroics with stage victories at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and Tour of the Basque Country, was an obvious choice for coaches and he is relishing the opportunity to repay their faith.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “It was a pretty late inclusion, but it’s going to be an exciting race.
“My goal is to try and win a stage. I will be happy if I’m up there and mixing it, but the biggest goal is to come away with a stage win. I need to win a stage in a Grand Tour. I have gone close before so it would be nice to get one over the next three weeks.”
That Swift will be on the Giro start line in Belfast on Friday is an achievement in itself given that he was forced to cut short his 2013 campaign last autumn to undergo surgery on a long-term shoulder problem that had threatened to derail his career.
Now back to full health, top form and without the constraints of having to work for a team leader, the Yorkshireman – who will be the only Briton at the Giro – is keen to enjoy every mile of the 21-stage marathon.
“I would have definitely taken this six months ago, when I was recovering from shoulder surgery,” he added. “The biggest thing is I have got my confidence back. I know I can be competitive, which bodes well going into the Giro.
“I just love it, it’s a great race. There’s no out-and-out GC rider [in Team Sky]. Guys that usually ride for the team are now given a chance to try for something for themselves. This is a good opportunity in a Sky team.”
Swift has completed the Giro once before, in 2009, as well as the Tour de France in 2011 and Vuelta a Espana in 2012, but walked away from all three without a win.
His best chances of ending that run will be in the Giro's sprint finishes or rolling days on which the peloton is split apart in the closing kilometres, while his biggest test will likely be battling through the race's nine summit finishes.
“This year’s route seems to be well balanced for stage wins and for the GC riders," he said. "It doesn’t seem as brutal as past years, which is a relief."