Ben Swift, the last Yorkshireman to ride the Tour de France three years ago, has seen first hand the sprinting capabilities of this year’s field. He gave his tips for this year’s Tour to Nick Westby.
Having spent much of the season jostling for position with the best sprinters in the world, Ben Swift knows better than most the men to watch in Yorkshire and beyond.
A sprinter in good form himself this season, it is to his eternal misfortune that he plies his trade with a team that begins the Tour de France with only one goal – the yellow jersey.
Swift was Team Sky’s sprinter at the recent Giro d’Italia, when he earned a couple of podium finishes, but it is all about riding for Chris Froome for Team Sky over the next three weeks.
Hence why Swift, who grew up 11 miles from the finish of stage two into Sheffield, has to make do with a place on that very finish line with the rest of us who will be just as eagerly anticipating the race to the line.
His thoughts on who might get there first differ greatly from the general consensus.
Given the second stage from York to Sheffield concludes with half-a-dozen lunchy climbs in the last 60km, many expect splits in the peloton and a breakaway might prove successful.
But 26-year-old Swift from Rotherham thinks differently.
“It’s definitely going to be some form of group sprint,” said Swift.
“The nature of it will be very nervous which, in turn, will make it very fast and that will make it hard for a breakaway to succeed.
“I don’t think it’s going to split up as much as people might think.
“This is the Tour de France, the first couple of days, and everyone will be on their A-game. Nobody will want to lose any time on day two so I think we are going to see a larger group coming to the line than people might think.
“It’s a day for Peter Sagan but I would say a good wild card might be Simon Gerrans.
“It’s a stage that suits him down to the ground, especially when you think about what happened on stage three of the Tour de France last year, when Gerrans beat Peter Sagan.”
Gerrans is a 34-year-old Australian who wore the yellow jersey last year and is enjoying the best form of his life.
Sagan won the green jersey for the points classification – awarded to the top sprinter – in each of the last two Tours de France.
In slipping his arms into that jersey in 2012, he succeeded where Mark Cavendish had led.
The popular narrative for Saturday’s first stage into Harrogate is for Cavendish to win a stage of the Tour de France for the 26th time and to finally get his hands on the yellow jersey.
While Swift strays from popular perception over stage two, when it comes to the opening day, he too finds himself yearning for an emotional win for Cavendish into his mother’s home town, no matter how great the challenge from German sprint star Marcel Kittel.
“The first stage has got bunch sprint written all over it and, for me, it’s going to be between Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish,” said Swift, who finished second behind Kittel on stage two of May’s Giro d’Italia in Ireland and ahead of Cavendish at the Milan-San Remo monuments classic.
“It’s hard to pick a winner between those two.
“Kittel has shown he is the new fastest sprinter in the world but Cav on his day is still the fastest guy in the world.
“Plus Cavendish has got that extra motivation of it being his mother’s home town.
“That will give him an extra incentive and it will be a cracking race between those two.”
Kittel won four stages to Cavendish’s two at last year’s Tour and has gone from strength to strength this year, but for his former team-mate at Sky and on British teams, you write Cavendish off at your peril.
Swift said: “Cav’s not lost any of his aura for me, it’s just one of those things – there’s someone else now who is dominating the sprints.
“Cav is still without doubt one of the fastest guys in the world, when you get to the line nine times out of 10 he’s still going to win.
“This might be his last opportunity to get into yellow as well, which yet again is further motivation.”
As for the general classification, Swift – who is now shifting his focus to the world championship road race in Spain at the end of September – still believes his team-mate Froome is the man to beat, even after his crash and defeat at the recent Criterium du Dauphine.
“I don’t think that defeat will have affected Froomey,” added Swift, who has accepted his absence from the Tour with pragmatism and grace.
“He’ll brush that off and he’ll understand that it was two super tough mountain stages.
“What it has done is open up the window for a lot of other riders who now think they can have the edge on him and that will make for a very exciting three weeks.
“Plus Alberto Contador will have the bit between his teeth as well.
“I think ultimately it will be between those two.”