Chris Froome ‘disappointed’ by Team Sky media coverage, but ‘understands why people feel let down’

Froome speaks out over recent controversies to express his confidence that protocols are now in place to prevent repeated mistakes

After reportedly declining to sign a joint rider statement supporting Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford last week, Chris Froome has issued a statement of his own saying that he “understands why people feel let down” and admitting that “mistakes have been made”.

However Froome started by expressing disappointment about the media coverage of recent controversies surrounding the team, such as the therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) of his erstwhile team-mate Bradley Wiggins, and the contents of a jiffy bag delivered to the team and Wiggins at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné.

“It disappoints me hugely to see the way in which Team Sky has been portrayed by the media recently,” Froome said in his statement.

“It does not reflect the support crew and the riders that I see around me.

“At the same time, I completely understand why people feel let down by the way in which the situation has been handled, and going forward we need to do better.

“I would like to apologise for this on behalf of myself and the other riders of Team Sky who feel passionately about our sport and winning clean.  I believe in the people around me, and what we are doing.”

>>> Everything you need to know about the British Cycling/Sky mystery package saga

Froome goes on to discuss his relationship with Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford, who has faced calls from some quarters to resign from his role in the face of the controversies surrounding the team.

Having won three Tours de France under Brailsford’s leadership, Froome said that he was grateful the support he has received, and is confident that Brailsford has put in place the protocols to prevent the team making similar mistakes to those that it has made in the past.

“With respect to Dave Brailsford, he has created one of the best sports teams in the world.  Without Dave B, there is no Team Sky.

“He has supported me throughout the last seven years of my career and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities and the experiences I’ve had.

“By his own admission, mistakes have been made, but protocols have been put in place to ensure that those same mistakes will not be made again.”

>>> Dave Brailsford says he’s not thinking about quitting Team Sky

Finally, Froome said that he and the rest of the team will be doing everything in their power to restore public confidence in the team’s credibility.

“I know it will take time for faith to be restored, but I will do my utmost to ensure that happens, along with everyone else at Team Sky.”

Froome has previously distanced himself from the controversies surrounding the team, in January making the distinction between his values and the values of the team, and pointing out that he had turned down a TUE for an infection during the 2015 Tour de France.

The 31-year-old hasn’t raced with the team since the Herald Sun Tour in early February, spending a couple of weeks training in South Africa with Geraint Thomas, who has been vocal in his support for Brailsford and in his frustration at the press coverage surrounding the team.

Froome’s next race will be the Volta a Catalunya which starts on March 20.


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Tech of the week: new pro bikes, wheel news, live pro data and more

This week we’ve got new time trial bikes from Factor and Cannondale, news from Tirreno-Adriatico, buyer’s guides and more deals.

New pro bikes ahead of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico

Ahead of Paris-Nice, Ag2r La Mondiale launched their new Factor Slick time trial bike. It continues and enhances the British brand’s split down tube design first seen on its original Vis Vires machine.

Slick by name…

Meanwhile, at Tirreno-Adriatico, Cannondale-Drapac were the first team to use disc braked bikes in a time trial. The new SuperSlice bike looks to update some other key features of the existing Slice, with head tube and bottom bracket changes. Two Cannondale-Drapac team members were also the only riders on disc brake road bikes at Strade Bianche the Saturday before.

Not a great way to start a 1000km race

We’ve also had news of Team Sky’s disastrous opening stage team time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico in which Gianni Moscon’s front wheel collapsed. We’ve reported wheel provider Pro’s response to the incident.

Maybe Moscon would like to browse our selection of deals on wheels? With more and more tubeless-ready wheels and tyres now on the market, we’ve been asking if setting up tubeless tyres is easy enough that we all can use them.

Live rider stats from Velon

Back at Tirreno-Adriatico, Velon, a grouping of ten WorldTour teams, is transmitting live rider stats to its website during the race, the first in a two year tie up with RCS Sports which also runs the Giro d’Italia and Milan-San Remo.

On the 22.7km first stage team time trial, you could see how much power some star riders were putting out, although with the heart rate display only going up to 160bpm nearly every one of the 12 riders followed was off the scale from the start.

Bib short weather on the horizon?

With a hint of warmer weather last week, we’ve also updated our bib short buyer’s guide with our pick of the best to take you through into the summer and asked if marginal gains can benefit you and me as well as the pros. We’ve also found some great deals on top notch cycling brands and taken an in-depth look at FSA’s new K Force WE wireless electronic groupset.


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Nibali admits Bahrain team making some mistakes as they find their feet in WorldTour racing

The two-time Giro d’Italia winner says he has time to find condition ahead of the race in May

Vincenzo Nibali says that he is still getting to know his new Bahrain-Merida team through mistakes and practice riding in the Tirreno-Adriatico this week in central Italy.

Nibali lost 1-43 minutes on the summit finish to Terminillo on Saturday and 3-32 in Fermo on Sunday.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar), his top Giro d’Italia rival this May, leads the overall by 50 seconds over Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). Nibali sits in 27th at 5-56.

“Clearly, for my team it’d be great to start off well,” Nibali told Cycling Weekly. “The season is long, though, and some big goals ahead, the Giro.

“It’s not easy. The Terminillo stage was also a chance to understand the team’s workings. We’d never done work like that, that was the first time. Maybe we went too early when we led the race. Maybe that was the mistake.

“We need to understand the mechanisms and maybe we lack some condition.”

Nibali says he’s around two kilos over his Grand Tour weight
Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

Nibali switched from team Astana this off-season to begin and lead a new Middle Eastern WorldTour team, Bahrain-Merida. He helped launch it at Prince Nasser’s palace in January and began racing later that month.

He said that he is slightly overweight, around two kilograms, adding that he will have a chance to shed those kilos over the next month training, likely with an altitude camp on Spain’s Tenerife island.

Between the Tirreno-Adriatico, which he won twice already in 2012 and 2013, and the Giro he will only race the Tour of Croatia, April 18 to 23.

The Giro d’Italia starts on May 5 with some of the strongest competitors in recent history, Quintana, Sky’s Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa, Fabio Aru (Astana), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Adam and Simon Yates (Orica-Scott).

“I lack a bit of condition, for sure, maybe my legs need another race in them,” he continued.

“In the end, yesterday, my feelings were good but just that I lack something. I need to improve on the climbs, for sure. This was the first summit finish I’ve done, but… I did recover well.

“I am going better day after day. Maybe it’s my weight, but there’s still a lot of road between here and the Giro.”

Nibali won the 2013 and 2015 Giro already and can afford to laugh. He joked that at least with the extra two kilograms that he is warmer in the hills around central Italy.


Watch: Giro d’Italia essential guide


“For the Giro, I’m not worried, we are still one and a half months off to the start and almost two months to the end,” his trainer, Paolo Slongo said.

“The Giro won’t be a problem, it’s only here that he might have a better mood if he won something.

“We for sure have space to improve. He came to Tirreno-Adriatico in good condition, but not at his top this year with the Giro in mind. He’s completive, with cycling as it is, though, he can’t be at these races 100%.

“And for Bahrain, yeah, it’d be good to win, but that’s the way it is. We can’t do much. The Giro is the most important goal.”


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Paris-Nice stage 8 highlights – Video

Sky‘s Sergio Henao took a narrow overall victory at Paris-Nice on Sunday, finishing the eight-day race with a mere two-second advantage over Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo). Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) rounded out the GC podium in third.

Contador attacked the GC favorites with over 50 kilometres left to race, soon forming a lead group that worked up a gap of a minute over a yellow jersey-wearing Henao, and even picking up a few bonus seconds along the way. Henao clawed back much of the advantage in the final kilometres, however, tightening the race up as Contador prepared to contest a two-man sprint for the stage victory.

Quick-Step Floors’ David de la Cruz bested Contador at the line, claiming the all-important 10 bonus seconds on offer at the finish, leaving Contador with a six-second bonus for second place. 21 seconds later, Henao arrived just in the nick of time to defend the jersey by two seconds, wrapping up the overall victory.

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Sergio Henao draws inspiration from Geraint Thomas for Paris-Nice fightback

Henao said he used his experience to save Paris-Nice victory on the final day

Twelve months and a few hours ago and Alberto Contador was attacking on the Côte de Peille on the final stage of Paris-Nice to try and take the yellow jersey off the back of a Team Sky rider.

>>> Sergio Henao narrowly holds on to win Paris-Nice as Alberto Contador attacks

This year he did it again, on both occasions opening a sizeable gap on his rival and looking like the race was his.

Although it was Geraint Thomas doing the chasing in 2016, and Sergio Henao in 2017, the results were nearly identical, with Contador missing out on the overall win by two seconds this year, compared to four seconds last year.

Given that Contador trailed Henao by 31 seconds at the start of the stage, the Colombian could have been forgiven for feeling as if he was going to miss out when the gap between Contador and his group went out beyond a minute.

But the Team Sky rider had last year’s experience to draw on as he delivered the team their fifth win in this race in six years.

“With what was happening, I thought about what happened last year with Thomas,” Henao said.

“It was basically the same situation so I couldn’t help but think about it.

“Last year I was there to help Geraint, so that meant I knew how to deal with that sort of stress.”

Despite having experience on his side, Henao admitted that there were moments where he thought the gap couldn’t be sufficiently closed.

“I panicked a little bit when the gap was over a minute and I wasn’t receiving any help from the other teams.

“But it was simple: what I needed to do was an uphill time trial and give all I had on the descents. I knew it would be difficult, and that I would have to fight until the final metre.”

This was Henao’s first stage race victory, and it was clear what it meant as he leapt up to embrace the soigneur who was trying to wipe the sweat from his face after the finish line when his slender victory was confirmed.

And it was beleaguered Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford who Henao dedicated his win too.

“I’d like to dedicate this victory to the team, the staff, and the mechanics, but especially to Dave Brailsford. He was always there when I needed him.

“He was there when I was injured when I crashed several years ago and my knee was destroyed. He always supported me, and he never gave up on me.”


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Sergio Henao narrowly holds on to win Paris-Nice as Alberto Contador attacks

The Colombian took a fifth Paris-Nice win for Team Sky with two seconds over Contador

Colombian champion Sergio Henao (Team Sky) narrowly held on to win the 2017 Paris-Nice ahead of Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), after the latter attacked 50km from the finish of stage eight.

>>> Peter Sagan wins Tirreno-Adriatico stage five after aggressive day of racing

Much like last year, when Contador attempted to snatch the yellow jersey from Sky’s Geraint Thomas on the final stage from Nice to Nice, the Spaniard came up narrowly short on Sunday’s 2017 finale, finishing second on the stage as David de la Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) won on the day.

At the 2016 Paris-Nice, Contador attacked Thomas and came up four seconds short after Henao helped his leader chase on the descent to the finish in Nice.

This year it was more or less up to Henao on his own as he struggled up the final climb of Col d’Eze, but ate up some between him and Contador after the gap had grown to around 50 seconds with 20km to go, putting the Spaniard in the virtual lead of the race.

But Contador was unable to hold off the circa 30 seconds he needed to secure victory, relying on time bonuses on the line to try and pull him somewhere close.

But after so much work, Contador was unable to beat David de la Cruz in the sprint finish, taking second and narrowly missing out as Henao finished around 21 seconds back amongst a large group, securing the Paris-Nice title.

How it happened

A large 23-man group, containing eventual winner David de la Cruz and third placed Marc Soler (Movistar), formed the day’s main break, establishing a gap of two minutes by 49km into the short 116km stage.

Contador, who may have been looking to get a teammate into the break, instead put his Trek squad to work on the front of the main peloton in an attempt to rid the likes of Henao of teammates.

Once Trek were spent and Jarlinson Pantano had put in a huge turn for his leader, it was up to Contador to attack on the slopes of the Côte de Peille.

After a third dig, he was able to drop race leader Henao, and easily bridged to the now 14-strong group out front.

The gap for that group pushed out to 50 seconds with Contador instigating some pace, and the pressure was on for the race leader behind to close the move down himself.

Contador then shed all but De la Cruz and Soler on the final climb of Col d’Eze, with Soler eventually trying his luck solo with 17km remaining.

De la Cruz appeared happy to try for the stage win and help set the pace, with his team leader Dan Martin sticking to Henao in order to hold onto his third place in GC.

The two Spaniards were able to chase down their compatriot Soler out front, and Henao, who looked in trouble at 1-05 on Col d’Eze, was beginning to bring things back together on the descent.

Soler was soon dropped by Contador in the final 5km, as was De la Cruz before managing to grab the Trek man’s wheel in the final 2km, and it was then up to that pair to sprint it out for stage victory and priceless bonus seconds for Contador (who had grabbed two already on the summit of Col d’Eze).

But Contador was drained, and was only able to follow De la Cruz in to take second and four bonus seconds.

Henao then rolled in 21 seconds back amongst a large group, just holding on to his lead by two seconds.

Results

Paris-Nice 2017 stage eight, Nice – Nice (116km)

1. David de la Cruz (Esp)Quick-Step Floors, in 2-48-53
2. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo
3. Marc Solar (Esp) Movistar, at 5s
4. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 21s
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors
6. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
7. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE-Team Emirates
8. Gorka Izaguirre (Esp) Movistar Team
9. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) Fortuneo – Vital Concept
10. Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct Energie, all same time

Others

12. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, at 21s
13. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors
15. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, all same time

Final general classification

1. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, in 29-50-29
2. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo, at 2s
3. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 30s
4. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Movistar, at 1-00
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-22
6. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-34
7. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-41
8. Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb, at 4-07
9. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 4-39
10. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing, at 14-26


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Peter Sagan wins Tirreno-Adriatico stage five after aggressive day of racing

Sagan was forced to work hard for victory as the GC contenders pushed hard on the short, sharp climbs in search of victory

World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hangrohe) showed once again his incredible versatility as he won an aggressive day of racing at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Sagan sprinted to victory ahead of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) as an elite group of riders made it to the finish in Fermo after 209km of tough terrain.

There was no-one to challenge the Slovakian in the final sprint, with the likes of Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in the front group, but he had to dig deep to hold on to the lightweight climbers on some short, steep ascents towards the finish.

After fighting hard to get back on terms ahead of the final climb, Sagan was able to repel attacks from Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) and Pinot, leading the small group around the final corner and gritting his teeth to sprint to victory.

Frenchman Pinot, who moved up to second in GC after Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) abandoned mid-race with illness, was able to sprint in just behind Sagan to take bonus seconds on the line.

How it happened

The day’s first major break looked to be an elite one as the likes of Scott Thwaites and Steve Cummings (Dimension Data), Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step) and Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) got into a big group of riders that established nearly four minutes gap on the group.

They were eventually brought back with 82km remaining, and it wasn’t long before attacks came thick and fast on the lumpy final 50km of the race.

The first major move was from Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) and Mattia Cattaneo (Androni) who were joined by Mikel Landa (Team Sky) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and established around a minute after attacking with 76km to go.

Movistar worked hard though in service of Quintana, and brought the quartet back at around 44.5km to go.

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) then started putting in a number of attacks, with nothing really sticking as the GC favourites eyed a stage win and some bonus seconds.

By this time there were only 80 or so riders left in the peloton, with the next purposeful attack coming  from Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) getting away on the circuit around Fermo with 21km to go.

They managed to put 30 seconds into the bunch, but with Kiryienka falling back on one of the steep climbs, Sanchez was forced to ride by himself until Tejay van Garderen bridged over with 9km to go.

That didn’t last too long though with the pair brought back on the approach to the centre of Fermo.

Quintana then tried to make a move on one of the steepest climbs which hit 22 per cent gradient, but wasn’t able to shake the likes of Thomas and Pinot.

Sagan was briefly distanced, but as soon as he made it back into the front group it seemed a sure thing that the rainbow jersey would be celebrating another win at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Monday’s stage six sees the riders take on a 168km stage that should see the sprinters remaining in the race get some opportunity for a stage win.

Result

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017 stage five, Rieti – Fermo (209k):

1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 5-00-05
2. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ
3. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNl-Jumbo
4. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
5. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
6. Rigoberto Urán (Col) Cannondale-Drapac
7. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb
8. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar
9. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing
10. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha-Alpecin

General classification after stage five

1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, in 21-34-51
2. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, at 50s
3. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team, at 1-06
4. Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team LottoNl-Jumbo, at 1-15
5. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 1-19
6. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at 1-23
7. Rigoberto Urán (Col) Cannondale-Drapac, at 1-30
8. Jonathan Castroviejo (Esp) Movistar Team, at 1-32
9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-37
10. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-59


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Paris-Nice 2017 queen stage ‘too hard’ and ‘unnecessary’

Team bosses question the need for a 177km mountain stage with a 16km summit finish so early in the season

After being battered by crosswinds on the opening two stages, the riders of Paris-Nice 2017 could have been forgiven for looking forward to three final days in the sun in the south of France.

However a three tough final stages included no fewer than five categorised climbs, with Saturday’s queen stage including a summit finish atop the 16km Col de la Couillole at the end of 177km in the saddle.

Dan Martin took third on the stage, joking after he crossed the line that the stage was “too hard for March”, a sentiment that seemed to be shared by many at the start line of the final stage.

“I think that stage was a bit unnecessary,” said Allan Peiper, the sporting manager of BMC Racing, the team that took victory on the stage thanks to Richie Porte.

“Paris-Nice is always hard,” Peiper continued, “but this one has been really hard.”

“Whether it’s because of the first flat stages with the crosswinds and cold weather, and then the hard hilly stages.

“And this one’s got a 1700m final climb on the second last day, with 4000m of climbing which is pretty much unprecedented for Paris-Nice.”

>>> Watch: Paris-Nice 2017 stage seven highlights

Peiper said that he hoped other organisers would not follow the lead of Paris-Nice organisers ASO and try and make their races progressively more difficult.

“If every organisers wants to make their race the hardest, and create the suspense by making it hard, then every season it just gets harder and harder.”

Peiper’s opinions were shared by Lorenzo Lapage, directeur sportif for Orica-Scott.

“It was such a hard stage, and very long. Probably too hard and too long,” Lapage said.

“It’s very early in the season, and I think the winner would have been the same if they’d have had one climb less and 20km less as well.”


Watch: Paris-Nice stage seven highlights


Lapage also criticised the choice of finishing location, with the remote summit finish and narrow mountain roads back meaning that some teams did not get back to their hotels until 9 or 10pm.

“At the finish there was a problem with the transfer. It was really badly organised in my opinion. Coming back to the hotel we didn’t get much information from the organisers.

“Thankfully we put the riders in the cars, but the bus wasn’t back at the hotel until 9.30.”

Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates) was one of fifty riders to roll in with the gruppetto more than half an hour after Porte had crossed the line, suffering after having been in the breakaway on the previous stage to Fayence.

“My legs were pretty nailed because I was in the breakaway the day before,” Swift said.

“I really paid for that effort. I felt OK on that final climb, but it was such a hard stage.

“It’s definitely been the hardest Paris-Nice I’ve ever done. It’s been so much harder than the last couple of years.”

>>> Ben Swift: ‘Leaving Team Sky was a now or never. I have a massive opportunity to perform across the year’

Although agreeing that this has been a difficult week for the riders, Swift said that in his opinion this was more down to the conditions and the style of racing than the parcours.

“The conditions have made the riders race hard every day. With the weather at the start of the week, it made those stages much tougher than they should have been.

“I don’t think the parcours has been any harder than any other year, it’s just been that we’ve had the wind. That creates so much stress so everyone fights for position, which means it’s a hard day every day.”


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Nairo Quintana: ‘Tirreno win has little meaning ahead of the Giro’

Despite blowing his rivals away on the Monte Terminillo, Quintana says he’s still not in full shape ahead of the Giro d’Italia

Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) says that his Terminillo summit stage win in Tirreno-Adriatico yesterday, which brought him the overall lead, means little ahead of the Giro d’Italia.

>>> Geraint Thomas: ‘That was bloody hard, but encouraging’ (video)

He stormed away solo with two kilometres remaining on the 16.1km climb north of Rome. He left behind Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) and other rivals he will face in two months in the Giro d’Italia.

“There’s little meaning, the Giro d’Italia will be different,” Quintana said bundled in blue and green team kit.

“I think my rivals are going well and arriving on time too. I have to prepare for them, they are hard rivals. I’m not going to under-evaluate them.”

His rivals in Tirreno-Adriatico are mostly the same that he will face May 5 to 28 when he tries to win his second Giro d’Italia title.

Foto LaPresse/ Gian Mattia D’Alberto

Thomas placed second at 18 seconds, Yates third at 24 seconds, and others – Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) – were scattered down the road in central Italy.

The “Quintana Show” – as Italy’s sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport headlined its article on Sunday morning – saw the most talented Grand Tour cyclists behind Sky’s Chris Froome do his thing.

He surged two or three times, the third finally broke Thomas, who said, “Quintana’s acceleration is phenomenal.”

With the win, Quintana took the overall lead by 33 seconds with three days to race. He must survive Sunday’s undulating stage through Le Marche to Fermo and the final time trial stage on Tuesday along Italy’s east coast.

Quintana, however, explained that it “means little” with the deck of cards to be slightly reshuffled before the Giro begins in Sardinia on May 5.



“My team-mates did well and brought me to the climb all together. Castroviejo was ahead and Amador and Moreno closed all the gaps. It helped me save my energy for the final attack,” Quintana said.

He added ominously that his “condition was not at its best” because he has been suffering from a cold.

Thomas and Yates will continue to race the Vuelta a Catalunya. Quintana will unplug back home in Colombia.

After the Vuelta a Valenciana win and the Tirreno-Adriatico’s Terminillo show, he will rest and train at altitude before returning to Europe just ahead of Giro.

He reflected over the last two years since he stormed away on the Terminillo and won the eventual Tirreno-Adriatico title. He said, “I have more experience now.”


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‘Leaving Team Sky was a now or never. I have a massive opportunity to perform across the year’

CW sits down with Ben Swift as he heads through his first season since leaving Team Sky, with an eye on a Monument win

Ben Swift‘s life changed drastically over the last few months. He left behind seven years in Team Sky to lead UAE Team Emirates and became a father. It all bodes well for Swift as he aims to win Milan-San Remo and to return to the Tour de France.

The baby-faced cyclist from Yorkshire sat back on a couch outside the Viceroy hotel in Abu Dhabi in the midst of the whirlwind to speak with Cycling Weekly.

Ahead of the Abu Dhabi Tour, the team welcomed new mega-sponsor Emirates Airlines. Swift, one of the team’s stars and one of two native English speakers, was pulled left and right for local television interviews. The next day, he began supporting Rui Costa to his eventual overall win.

The 2013 world champion Costa won the summit finish stage to Jebel Hafeet and kept the lead in the flat final stage on Abu Dhabi’s formula one circuit. It was a dream scenario for the UAE’s first professional team to win on home soil after announcing the Emirates deal.

Swift had little time to celebrate. He received a call from his partner after the stage saying she was on her way to the hospital to give birth.

Arthur Swift, just like dad, is fast. He arrived before Swift could travel home. He has his hands full and with a smile emoticon, he wrote a few days later saying he is looking forward to race again in Paris-Nice just so he can have a full night’s sleep.

Times truly have changed for Swift, who at 22-years-old in 2010, left team Katusha to join Sky in their debut year.

Ben Swift riding for Katusha at the 2009 Giro d’Italia (Watson)

“Everyone in the UAE team has been good to me, but it’s always going to be different to Sky because I was with my childhood friends there,” Swift says.

Swift grew through the British Cycling Academy and raced the track. He had a trainee period with Barloworld in 2007, the year Geraint Thomas was in the team, and turned professional with Katusha at 21 years old.

Talk of a new British WorldTour team proved true and for 2010, Swift left his contract to ride with his home team and childhood friends. He had his chances to sprint and race the Tour de France in 2011, but the focus changed quickly to Grand Tours with impressive helpers and star leaders.

Swift found some space. He placed third in Milan-San Remo in 2014 and second in it in 2016. Opportunities were limited, though. And as he began to climb better, the team needed him more and more to help its classification leaders.

“I was so fatigued, I didn’t have the power left [when the stages suited me] or I’d have to work for the leader to protect him. If I have the capability now to be in those 20-30 man groups and not have to ride for someone else, then it opens the doors up,” Swift continues.

“Regrets? I don’t think so. I had a lot of opportunities, but it started to change. It comes with the territory, that’s what Sky was all about, and you know that. I loved it, but when this opportunity came about, it was hard to miss. It was time to go full gas for myself.”

Ben Swift celebrates becoming a world track champion in 2012. Swift was one of a highly successful generation to come through the British Cycling academy

Swift recalls the cooling vests, the warm downs and training camps. Some said that going to a race after a training camp was almost a relief given how much effort that they invested in their build up.

“Sky made it much more scientific, much more attention to detail. They were innovators of the sport, everything from cooling down… Everyone looked at diets before, but the way that Sky did it so rigorously, eating this for that training or eating this for that training.

“I don’t think other teams ever went into that detail. Now, it’s across the board. When we wore our skin suits or aero helmets on the road, they laughed at us, but now others do it too.

“Sky learned as they were starting. When a new rider came to the team, they couldn’t believe how intense the training camps were. From what you heard, the other teams just rolled around in camps!

“That definitely got tapered off over the years, in the first couple of years, it was incredible the amount of training. With the innovation that they brought to the sport, they learned that sometimes less is better.”

Swift laughed because he didn’t know any better at the time. He had come from British Cycling’s Academy where they were training similarly. The same programme included professionals like Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard – Sky team-mates, and childhood friends, left behind.

He began looking with his agent in the summer of 2016 for a new team. Several teams were interested given his placings and WorldTour points, but UAE Team Emirates – or Lampre-Merida as it was then – kept calling back to convince Swift.

The opportunity to lead more, and to select and target specific stages from a Tour de France road book was too much to pass.

“It’s looking through the road book and picking the stages for myself. I’m able to plan my race days,” adds Swift.

“It was a now or never. I have a massive opportunity to perform across the year.”

‘They listen to what I want.”

Ben Swift wins stage five of the 2014 Tour of the Basque Country. Leadership opportunities would be harder to come by at Sky for Swift.

Swift debuted in Sky’s black colours in the Tour Down Under in 2010. Greg Henderson took the team’s first win in the opening criterium.

He helped in those early wins and then made his mark. In Sky’s long list of stage race titles – from the Tour de France to Paris-Nice to the Critérium du Dauphiné – Swift claimed the first one in the 2010 Tour de Picardie. He also took stage victories in the Tour Down Under, the Tour of California, the Tour de Romandie, Poland and País Vasco.

As Swift began to climb better, he helped his Sky team-mates defend their classification leads and limited his chances to only a handful of days.

In Sky, Swift’s one big appointment of the season became Milan-San Remo. He collected points everywhere else in 2016, for example, but his second place on Via Roma behind Arnaud Démare (FDJ) is what ‘Swifty’ supporters remember most.

The UAE Team Emirates team may seem an unlikely match, but with its Italian structure, after 20-plus years racing as Lampre, it knows races like Milan-San Remo well. That extends to manager Giuseppe Saronni. In addition to the Giro d’Italia and the Worlds in Goodwood, he won on San Remo’s Via Roma in 1983.

“They helped me focus on it and on the surrounding races, giving me the opportunity. They listen to what I want and then make decisions. I was able to do that in the past, but sometimes, it was spur of the moment, being pulled off to a race. Now we have a plan and we are sticking to it,” Swift says.

“The emphasis is on San Remo, but I can name 20 or 30 guys who have that on their list too. We are not under any illusions. I don’t like making a big song and dance, saying, ‘That’s the one I want to target.’ You’ll never hear me say, ‘That’s the one I’m going to win.’

“That aside, you have to have goals and ambitions. For me, I’ve proved in the past that Milan-San Remo is a race that suits me. It’s just a logical race that I can target. It opens up many other opportunities when I start to build for that race.”

Swift is racing in Paris-Nice ahead of Milan-San Remo and continuing to País Vasco and to the Amstel Gold Race. The Amstel Gold Race, with a hard parcours and new flat finish could be one of those opportunities.

Swift has had a decent record at La Primavera, but will be looking to one better in 2017 (Watson)

He says that he does not want to think too far ahead, but “with 90 per cent certainty” he will race the 2017 Tour de France. It would be the first time in six years, since 2011, for Swift. Even in 2014, he was not there when the Sheffield stage finished eight kilometres from his door step.

UAE Team Emirates has South African star Louis Meintjes, who placed eighth in 2016, to support. Swift explains that it will be much different, though, as the team will not be lined out on the front each day for its leader as Sky would for Chris Froome. It leaves Swift to thumb through the road book and pinpoint days.

“I haven’t looked in detail, but I heard that there are many intermediate transitional stages this year. There could be many opportunities.”

Opportunities ahead

Swift puts his hand on his knee. It still gives him a few “niggles” occasionally and reminds him how he almost fractured it last year in the Tour de Romandie. Doctors say that will pass in the next year.

He pays more attention to his shoulders and if needed, he visits British Cycling’s physiotherapists for help.

“I hope I won’t need that any more,” he says. “I’ve done both of my shoulders in twice. It’s a little genetic in that my shoulders aren’t completely round, but more oval that we’ve seen on the MRIs. If I crash on the wrong spot at high speeds, my shoulder dislocates straight out the back and does a lot of damage on the way out.”

The Barloworld period passed and so did the years in Katusha and Sky. Even though he has been professional for eight years, he is still only 29. “I’m coming into my prime,” he adds. He signed a two-year contract with Saronni and UAE to make the most of the period.

Swift rides alongside former Sky teammates Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas. Swift will be looking to take bigger opportunities at UAE Team Emirates (Sunada)

“The years are going by fast now, they tick by, and you have to focus on the now, but also with an eye on the next objective,” he adds.

“For the next couple of years, I’m going to be targeting those harder stages and those reduced bunch sprints. I may not be as fast as I was when I was younger, as I used to win bunch sprints in the past.”

At the 2012 worlds in Melbourne, Swift won the scratch gold medal and with Geraint Thomas, took a Madison silver medal.

“My training changed some without being on the track, but I’ve substituted that with climbing, looking for opportunities in harder stages,” he continues.

“That’s the direction that I need to keep pushing and pursuing.”


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