Tour de France star lifts the lid on the importance of the UK’s only UCI race

It wasn't all too long ago Great Britain stood at the top of the cycling world: there was Bradley Wiggins, then Chris Froome, and finally Geraint Thomas.

For a time, it seemed as though the heights of the Pyrenees and the Alps were the playgrounds of the Brits. But before the trio could stand on the Champs-Elysees, draped in yellow, they all had to cut their teeth on these shores.

Particularly at the Tour of Britain, the UK's premier cycling event that was relaunched in 2004. As youngsters, Britain's three Tour de France winners used the race to launch their careers on the continent as they peddled alongside World Tour teams.

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On Sunday, Connor Swift will be part of the peloton – for the Great British national team – that rolls out of Aberdeen.

Over the course of the week, Swift and co will navigate summit finishes at ski centres, short sharp climbs across the Yorkshire Dales, and mile-upon-mile of British countryside as the peloton winds its way down to the Isle of Wight.

Swift, like the three stars, has used the Tour of Britain to springboard into Europe – and five years after his first outing at the event, and three Tour de France's later, Swift is back.

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"I think it really helped me step up to the World Tour: looking back to when I first started the race in 2017, it was the longest race I had done," Swift told Daily Star Sport when looking back at his first appearance.

“Because predominately UCI Continental Teams only race one-day races, and they don’t get a lot of stage racing to do. So potentially, you’ll do a training camp – or a big training block – before the Tour of Britain, which is the big goal of the season.

"I can remember it was huge for me in 2017 and 2018 as I wanted to put in a really good ride and show off what I can do in a race."

And Swift is hoping the 2022 event will help some of the younger talents launch their careers.

The Arkea-Samsic man added, when asked about the importance of the race: "As a nation, we’re doing so well in producing professionals – and to not have a professional race would be devastating.

“It would potentially have a knock-on effect too: future generations wanting to step up would find it more difficult, and it’s just now we’ve got this big wave of talent coming through, so it’s so important.”

Swift had already completed three laps of Britain before he received a call up to the most prestigious race of them all, the Grand Boucle, the Tour de France.

As a domestique (a support rider), Swift was tasked with navigating Nairo Quintana, a one-time great rival of Froome, around France. Swift spoke about how he loved racing in the Tour, and learning from one of the best stage racers of his generation.

But he added: "Once you’ve finished the Tour you don’t want to look at the bike for a few days you just want to chill!”

It was at Arkea-Samsic that Swift achieved the biggest result of his career, having already claimed the National Championships in 2018.

“I can remember after the first time doing it, I did a decent ride and I remember afterwards thinking it’s a race that suits me and my characteristics. To win it for Arkea-Samsic, with the team being from there and the sponsors being from that region: it’s like their World Championships… it was a good day!"

However, Swift did admit he was 'gutted' he didn't get the unique prize on offer: "I was like really gutted as I wanted to be in the podium with the pig in my hands and deciding what to do with it!”

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Swift rolled out from a wet and windy Aberdeen on Sunday morning with hopes of a good placing on GC, but it's his compatriot Tom Pidcock that goes in as the favourite.

The Yorkshire man is one of the brightest talents to emerge from these shores in recent memory. And the 22-year-old is already a cyclocross World Champion, Olympic and European cross-country mountain biking champion, and he won atop Alpe d'Huez in the Tour de France.

The winner will join an illustrious list of names to win the event in recent years including World Champions and Tour de France green jersey winners.

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