Ben Swift took a hugely popular victory in the elite men’s road race at the national championships in Norfolk on Sunday.
The Yorkshireman, 31, ruptured his spleen in a bad training crash in Tenerife earlier this year, nearly having to have it removed altogether. But he bounced back in style, claiming his maiden national title from the day’s breakaway.
Swift’s win owed much to his Ineos team mate Ian Stannard who “softened up” his rivals’s legs, spending much of the 201.5km race off the front.
Stannard went clear early in proceedings. And even after he was caught by a group of five, including Swift, John Archibald (Ribble Pro Cycling) and Scott Thwaites (Dimension Data), he proceeded to dish out the pain. After a bit of a regrouping with 25 kilometres remaining, Stannard, Swift, Archibald and Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin) attacked the leading group. Dowsett was the first to pop. Then, with Archibald tiring, Stannard pushed on again. Swift was able to sit on Archibald’s wheel before launching a late attack, catching and passing Stannard before the line in Norwich.
“To be honest the last few kilometres were the easiest few kilometres,” Swift said. “Once we got away, whittling groups down, Stannard played his role and I could really just wait. I’ve been waiting for a win for years. I had two terrible years at UAE and I just refocused, worked really hard.”
Swift’s win prompted an outpouring of goodwill on social media. The Briton, who spent an unhappy two years at UAE Team Emirates before returning to Team Sky at the start of this season, is a hugely popular character.
“Get in Swifty lad!!! So happy for you. Can’t think of anyone more deserving!!!” tweeted Tour champion Geraint Thomas, who was with Swift when he crashed in Tenerife in February.
The nationals is meant to be every rider for himself, with pro team mates not helping each other. But Swift acknowledged there was more than a bit of teamwork at play. “Stannard was a machine today,” he said. “I could just sit on, I’m just so happy.”
Stannard, the 2012 champion, said he did think briefly that he might make it to the finish on his own. “You never know,” the 32-year-old said. “But I always knew what Swifty was going to do.
“I just wanted to make sure I softened up the others for Swifty. It was quite a big group for a while and I thought a lot of them were going to end up coming to the line but it caught up with them so it was good.”