PEZ: A Russian team – is the leisure gear a black leather coat and shades, Ben?
Ben: No, no, we’ve got nice matching team tracksuits!
PEZ: Congratulations on making the big league; but you were a stagiaire with Barloworld in 2007, weren’t you?
Ben: Yes, but the whole feel of this setup is much bigger and being there from the start, I feel like I’m a part of it – which I never did at Barloworld, I felt like I wasn’t quite there.
Swift hitting it hard at the World Championships last year.
PEZ: You’re just back from training camp?
Ben: Yes, it was in Tuscany, only about 40 K from Quarrata where the British Under-23 cycling academy is based and where I lived.
It was good to meet everyone, it wasn’t so much about training as meeting and greeting and trying the new bikes and clothing.
Some of the teams went on to the presentation in Moscow, but I came home.
Andre Tchmil needs no introduction…nor does his counterpart in this picture, fellow Primavera winner, Filippo Pozzato.
PEZ: How was Andre Tchmil (team manager and ex-Primavera & Paris-Roubaix winner) he’s said to be a man of few words?
Ben: I didn’t have much to do with him, but he seems friendly enough, a lot of the talking was in Russian and French – I can speak a little Italian, but I couldn’t understand a lot of what was getting said.
PEZ: Dimitri Konyshev is a DS – when he raced back in the 80’s, they used to say; ‘he likes the girls!’
Ben: I don’t know about that, but he was friendly and his English is very good; in fact there was no one in the group who you would say was ‘off,’ everyone was warm and friendly – it was a good atmosphere.
Even in this picture, Konyshev doesn’t look to be having a difficult time with the ladies.
PEZ: Which of the riders speak English?
Ben: Robbie McEwen (ex Lotto) – obviously, and the Belgian guys, Gert Steegmans (ex QuickStep), Stijn Vandenbergh (ex AG2R – La Mondiale) and Maxime Vantomme (ex Mitsubishi – Jartazi).
I room with Christian Pfannberger (ex Barloworld) from Austria and his English is good too.
Christian Pfannberger is Swift’s roommate, and a near guarantee for a break-out win in 2009.
PEZ: Have you spoken to Vlad Karpets (team leader – ex Caisse d’Epargne), yet?
Ben: No, he seems like a nice guy, but keeps mostly to himself.
PEZ: Was the ‘spat’ with Oleg Tinkov discussed?
(Katyusha came about from the platform laid by Oleg Tinkov’s, successful Tinkoff team, but the Russian business man does not enjoy a good relationship with Tchmil and has ‘left the party.’)
Ben: No, I wasn’t even aware of it until I got home, it certainly doesn’t seem to be affecting what’s happening with the team in any way.
PEZ: What was a day like at camp?
Ben: We’d get up at 08.00 and have breakfast at 08.30, getting out on the bikes at around 10.00.
We were doing runs of four to five hours; then there would be meetings in the afternoon.
The tempo was pretty much what I’m used to, 35 kph averages.
Everyone seemed to be going well; I think we’re all looking forward to racing in our new colours.
Swift has graduated from the British National Team to the big leagues with Katyusha.
PEZ: Ridley has followed Robbie to Katyusha.
Ben: Yeah, they’re fantastic machines, super light and stiff, with Campag groupsets – we’ll be riding Heliums and Noahs on the road, with the new Deans for time trials.
PEZ: Do you have your programme yet?
Ben: I haven’t been given it in too much detail yet, that’ll be at the next camp, but I know I’m riding the Tour of Qatar.
Robbie McEwen will be another big name to watch and another wealth of knowledge for Swift to learn from.
PEZ: Does the team give much instruction on training?
Ben: Serge Parsani is responsible for that side of things, but I’ll continue to work with Rod Ellingworth from British Cycling. I’ll be living in Tuscany near Rod and Max Sciandri; they’ve been looking after me as I’ve come up through the ranks.
I’ve stepped my training up a little, I’m doing more hours, but the main thing is that I feel ready within myself to race at this level – I know exactly what I’m letting myself in for.
I think one of the big things I’ll have to adjust to, is the constant high level of competition. With the Pro Tour, every race is a big one and it’s a busy calendar – constant hard work.
Swift is no stranger to winning – he’ll be looking to step it up in 2009.
PEZ: What goals have you set yourself?
Ben: To gain as much experience as I can and to take any opportunities that might come along.
I know they’ll be few and far between because I’ll always have a job to do for the team, but if they arise, then I’ll grab them!
Ben: I’ll have a day off the bike on Christmas day; I’ll be spending it with my family and girlfriend.
Boxing Day I’ll be back in harness though, the local run has the Downing brothers on it, so it’s not an easy ride!
With thanks to Ben and good luck for 2009; we’ll be keeping in touch with him as the season progresses.