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Swift dreaming of Milano-Sanremo glory

All winter, Ben Swift (Sky) has been dreaming of Sunday’s big battle along the “capi” of the Italian Riviera.

Following a string of injuries that kept the British sprinter on the back foot, he notched a career-best third in the 2014 Milano-Sanremo. Bolstered by an injury-free campaign last year, when he also won a stage at the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), the 27-year-old is hoping for a miracle Sunday.

“Milan-Sanremo is the big goal. That’s the big race I’ve been thinking about all winter,” Swift said at a team camp earlier this season. “To get that result last year proved to me that I could do it. On paper, the race suits me, but to go there, and do it, that meant a lot.”

Swift will be part of a balanced Team Sky for the spring classics opener over the weekend. Swift will be the team’s man for a sprint finale, with riders such as Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard also having freedom to try to get over the final decisive climbs in a break.

Swift is hoping that a smoother build-up to Milano-Sanremo will pay off on the Via Roma finishing straight. Last year, he was a late-hour addition to the team once it was confirmed that the Pompeiana climb was not going to be part of the route.

For 2015, organizers have not only ditched plans to include the steeper Pompeiana climb, but also took out the La Maniè climb and reverted the finish line to the Via Roma, closer to the base of the Poggio climb, in what’s the traditional course last used in 2007.

“I’ve had a great winter. In 2012 and 2013, I had shoulder operations, and I would spend six weeks in a sling. I’d get to a level, then all that would disappear, and I would have to start over from scratch,” he said. “I had a solid season last year, with 80 days of racing, so I carried that strength and depth into the winter.”

Swift is key to Sky’s increased ambitions for the spring classics. The team has made it no secret that it wants to bolster its classics program to bring the team on par with its successes it’s enjoyed in stage racing. With the departure of Edvald Boasson Hagen to MTN-Qhubeka, there will be more pressure on riders such as Thomas, Stannard (who defended his title at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad), and Swift.

“When you look at our success in stage racing, you can plan things a lot more. You’ve got time to manage it. In a one-day race, you can plan everything you want, but if you have a puncture or a crash at the wrong time, everything is lost in an instant,” Swift said. “You’ve got to have a lot of luck in one-day racing. But experience counts for a lot. We’re still learning and building our classics team at Sky. I think we’re ready to make a big jump.”

Swift has had a solid start to the 2015 season, with third at Trofeo Playa de Palma and second in stage 1 at the Volta ao Algarve. Following Paris-Nice, where teammate Richie Porte won the overall, Swift is hoping to get his chance at victory this weekend in Sanremo.

“I turned 27 in November, and I think my best years are still ahead of me,” he said. “I’ve been on this team since 2010, and I feel like one of the ‘old guys,’ but mentally I feel very young. It puts a bit more pressure on our shoulders.”

For Swift, his top goal is to stay healthy, stay in the mix, and punch into the winner’s bracket a few more times.

“I’d like to convert a few of my second and third places into wins. Last year, I had six or seven second places [seven second-place finishes in 2014 -Ed.],” he said. “The first big goal is Sanremo. I’ve had that one on my mind all winter.”