South Yorkshire with Ben Swift
DISTANCE 37.5 miles (60km)
MAIN CLIMB Harworth
TOTAL CLIMB 518m
ACHTUNG! Some busy main road junctions particularly the A618 at Ulley
It's been quite a season for Ben Swift, the young Yorkshireman from Throapham, Dinnington. We meet up with him at the family home while he is back for a month to unwind from his successful second year with the U23 Academy. “It’s been a bit of a surprise season. In the winter I never thought I would be able to achieve what I have achieved this year,” Swift says.
The pre-season had started with a niggling shoulder injury carried over from the previous season’s crash in the Tour of Britain. Once out in Italy, though, his season started to build to produce some memorable rides, with fourth in the GP Liberazione in Rome and a stage win and the KoM jersey in the Regioni Tour. The collection of trophies in the front room is testament to his Italian exploits: “They definitely love their trophies out there,” Swift beams.
The year was capped with strong performances as a stagiaire for the Barloworld Team, culminating in taking the E.ON KoM jersey in the Tour of Britain. “I think Barloworld were a little bit surprised really. Happy though,” explains Swift of his Tour of Britain ride. “It was something I wanted to do on my own, but I didn’t broadcast it to anyone just because I didn’t want them to put everyone behind me. I got a few points in the first few days. Then I got in the break to Wolverhampton and once I was in the break I knew I could take full advantage of that.”
The significance of this was it meant that Ben could start the following day’s stage from Rother Valley on his home roads in the climbers’ jersey. “That was my little aim at the start of the stage to Wolverhampton,” Swift reveals. “I knew I was in joint third, so even if I was in the peloton I was going to try to get as many points as I could. It worked out.”
It’s a beautiful October afternoon as we set out towards Laughton Common and the spired church at Laughton-en-le-Morthen. Ben’s dad, Mark, joins us for the ride, along with Ben’s long-time friend Adam Blythe. Despite an age difference Adam and Ben have grown up together and cycled together “since they were knee high to a grasshopper”, Ben’s dad tells us. “I’ve got a picture of them both in Sheffield Phoenix kit and they look like twins.”
I’d also noticed a picture in the fireplace before we set out of Ben in yellow and ask about the story there. “That was my second time abroad over in Holland,” Ben relates. “I was eight or nine and I’d won a stage race. Adam won his category in the same event.”
Adam, along with Peter Kennaugh, Mark McNally and Jonathan McEvoy will join Ben and the existing U23 Endurance Academy members for the coming year. This means there are now 11 Endurance riders living together at the Academy.
From the church at Laughton we descend briefly before heading towards Ulley and its country park and reservoir. We pass over the reservoir wall which had made national news headlines during the summer storms. It was feared the water would breach its dam and flood the M18 and M1 just a short distance away.
We start to head north to Wickersley and Bramley and there’s a chance to chat about how Ben started out. It’s Ben’s dad that picks up the story: “I was with Beighton All Terrain Club with mountain bikes. There were loads of bikes about but no age categories, so Ben was riding about with a number on and calling it a race as such. Then it progressed from there.”
Ben adds: “I did my first race when I was three at Rother Valley Country Park.” He was on a BMX and Ben’s dad continues the tale: “So, somebody said: ‘You want to go up to the Sheffield BMX circuit, they have age groups there.’ So, off we tootle over there with a little ‘lead’ BMX thing and Ben eventually had a few goes.
“Then someone there was selling a bike, so we bought that and all the kit and kept going with the BMX’ing for a while. Ben then decided he wanted to do a charity ride, so we went off to Dave Marsh and had his first little 24in sprint bike built. He had his first track bike from there too. He’s always been really little so you couldn’t buy anything off the peg, everything had to be specially made. He’s never looked back from there with his road and track.”
Using some of the narrow farm lanes we arrive in Tickhill and join the road to Bawtry. It’s a familiar section to Ben as it was used in the Tour of Britain stage route to Bradford. From Bawtry we head to the Hawk’s Nest junction used as a turn in many of the time trial courses that cross the area.
We take the right and climb the only significant hill to Harworth which forms part of the Tom Simpson Memorial race circuit. Harworth was the home of Tom Simpson and we stop briefly for a photo by the memorial stone placed by the colliery sports ground gates. I later learn that Ben did a charity ride with Chris Walker to help raise funds for the memorial stone.
The black stuff
Skirting the colliery complex we pick up some of the quiet lanes that cross the farmland round here for the leg back. I ask how often Ben is able to use this route. “It’s a social run two times a week when I’m home,” Ben tells us. His dad adds, “Ben’s only really home six to eight weeks of the year.”
The last section of lane is quite surreal as you see the spire of Laughton-en-le-Morthen church slowly rise into view from the ploughed arable land. It’s a left in the village and a chance to ask finally what 2008 holds for Ben before we arrive back home: “I’ll definitely be going back out to Italy no matter what and staying on with the U23 Academy. I’ve enjoyed it this year. To have a bit of success out there meant I enjoyed it even more.
“Next year I think I will have more confidence and hopefully no injuries. It’s my style of racing out there as well. It suits me quite well. I’m an all-rounder. That’s how I see myself.”
(Since doing the ride with Swift it has been announced that Marco Corti, the son of the Barloworld boss Claudio Corti, has been signed for the final place in the Barloworld team for 2008.)
Swift on Barloworld: “That was good, really good. A bit of an eye-opener seeing how the pros race. I enjoyed it a lot. It was good to have Geraint Thomas about. I didn’t do too many races with him but he was there for my first two races. I was more happy to have him there for my first two than any other so I wasn’t totally on my own going in to a new scene. After that I got on with everyone.”
Swift on Stuttgart Worlds: “It was a good first Worlds. Everything went pretty much to plan. We decided with Rod Ellingworth the best way to do it was to just sit in for the first seven laps and rely on the other teams. By then everyone still had two or three riders left.
Everything was going to plan until the last lap, where I just cramped up. I couldn‘t do anything about that. So then Dave Brailsford gave Jonny Bellis an open role, and he took full advantage of it. I’d have worked for him if needed. I think Jonny was surprised about the result because the week before he wasn’t even going to the Worlds!”
YOUR GUIDE: BEN SWIFT
- Ben is 20 and lives with parents Sandy and Mark in Throapham near Dinnington when he’s back from racing
- Currently on British Cycling’s U23 Academy programme in Quarrata, Italy
- Rode for the Barloworld team as a stagiaire from August to October this year
- Enjoys music and browsing the internet. Last CD bought was Curtis by 50 Cent
- 2007 season high points: KoM and stage six winner in Giro delle Regioni; fourth in GP Liberazione in Rome; E.ON KoM in Tour of Britain
West from Throapham on B6463 towards Laughton Common. Turn right (TR) to Laughton-en-le-Morthen. Continue past church and over railway to turn left (TL) to TR on to B6060. TL on to unclassified road and continue to Ulley. TR to Ulley Country Park & reservoir. At T-junction TR on to A618 to TR to Upper Whiston and Morthen. Cross B6410 to join B6060 to Wickersley roundabout.
TR on to A631 to TL to Bramley on to B6093. TR to Bramley Grange Farm and continue to Micklebring and Old Edlington. TR onto B6094, direction Wadsworth. TR to Wilsic and Tickhill to TR onto A60 to TL on to A631 to Bawtry. TR on to A614 to TR to Harworth. TL to Styrrup along to A60 junction. TL to TR along lane to Thornbury Hill. TR on to A634 to TL to Firbeck. Out of Firbeck TR to Laughton-en-le-Morthen. TL to retrace back to Throapham.