A spectator as the Tour de France wound its way around his home county last year for the Grand Depart, local lad Ben Swift is determined to be front and centre for the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire this weekend.
Rotherham cyclist Swift was left out of Team Sky’s line-up for the three-week race last July, which saw Yorkshire and the British public demonstrate its love of the sport.
That appetite will once again be on show this May Bank Holiday weekend with three stages starting with a 174km route from Bridlington to Scarborough today (Fri).
Swift has previously admitted competing in the race will go some way to reduce the pain of missing out on last year’s competitive ride on his home roads.
And with Sir Bradley Wiggins making his first appearance in the colours of his own team following his departure from Team Sky and German sprinting powerhouse Marcel Kittel launching his comeback after nearly a three-month break due to a virus, Swift knows victory would be a proud moment.
“The Tour de Yorkshire feels like it’s a big race already, it’s coming with a high standard and to have races like this is fantastic,” said the 27-year-old.
“I am really excited that the Tour de Yorkshire is coming now, after the Grand Depart that we had last year, the atmosphere you all saw was unbelievable.
“Now to have a race that I can call my home race, it’s not very often we get to do that, especially being a British rider – cycling is becoming massive now.
“There’s definitely a high class field, there are some big names coming – Bradley Wiggins is on the start line, Marcel Kittel. I think that this race already feels like it’s a big race and it’s coming in at a higher level, and people are taking it seriously.”
Swift is being billed as one of the favourites to claim the blue and yellow leader’s jersey come the conclusion of the final stage in Leeds alongside Lotto NL-Jumbo duo Moreno Hofland and Steven Kruijswijk as well as Classics specialist Greg Van Avermaet.
But it is not just the overall victory Swift, who finished third in the 2014 Milan-San Remo, has his eyes on, with the Yorkshire Bank sprinter’s jersey also there for the taking.
“I’m a bit more of a sprinter type, and having the Yorkshire Bank Sprint Jersey up for grabs is definitely a bit of a goal. I’d like to be in that jersey by the time we arrive in Leeds,” said Swift.
“There are a couple of sprints each day, and the one in Ilkley at the bottom of the moor will be pretty tough.
“I’m feeling pretty good, I’ve had a good start to the season. I’ve had a heavy start, so I’ve just taken a break recently, so hopefully I’ll be coming into this race fresh.
“I’ll definitely be giving it my best shot, like I say it’s my home race, I’ve got a great team around me and I’ll be going for it.”
Having grown up in Dinnington, south of Sheffield, Swift is certainly no stranger to the Yorkshire roads.
He is also a part of a proud Yorkshire tradition for producing successful sporting talent – the county memorably accounting for 12 medals at London 2012, including team pursuit gold for Barnsley cyclist Ed Clancy.
And Swift believes the British public will once again be out in force, come rain or shine, this weekend.
“I’ve done a few recons and I’ve seen the atmosphere out on the roads already. There’s bunting everywhere, there are bikes painted – I think everybody is just really getting behind it again,” he added.
“That’s the great thing about British fans, they really grasp it and I think the Yorkshire folk are really proud to have this race here and they’re taking hold of it.
“You have only got to look round here to see how beautiful Yorkshire is, especially when the sun is shining.
“It’s hard roads, I’ve had a look at the circuits and it’s definitely going to be a hard three days, but we get to see some beautiful places.”
Yorkshire Bank has agreed a three-year sponsorship of the coveted sprinter’s jersey at the Tour de Yorkshire.
The event builds on the legacy of the Tour de France and follows the ground-breaking Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries initiative. This partnership signifies the bank’s commitment to increasing the access to cycling across the county - visit www.ybonline.co.uk