The country and cycling fans around the world celebrated as Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s Ryan Gibbons rode to fourth place on the last stage of the Tour de Langkawi to secure his overall yellow jersey and competition title in Malaysia last week.
Looking back at the eighth and final stage of the race, Gibbons mentioned that his team was aware that this was going to be a tough one: “We knew that IsoWhey (Sports SwissWellness Team) were going to hit us and they had four guys that were quite strong climbers. It started off with two climbs in the early stages of the stage.”
According to Gibbons, the first climb was relatively controlled. “It was on the second climb where they really hit. There was a group of about fifteen who got a bit of a gap. I was feeling alright, but Jacques, our road captain told me to just take it easy.
“We crested about 15 seconds behind them. We caught them within five seconds and then there was a group of 40 of us away. Fortunately, in that group were a few sprinters so the teams that were there just committed hard. From 30km in it was flat out all-go to the line,” he added.
The major aim for the team was to secure the Jersey, not necessarily the stage. “I wanted to go for the stage but the team had worked so hard for so long and the goal was to get me inside the last three kilometres on the last stage,” he added.
Gibbons had held on tight to the Yellow Jersey from Stage Two of the race after placing second and third in the first two Stages consecutively.
By the end of the Tour, Gibbons had to his name one victory on Stage Five, three podiums (Stages Two, Three and Four), two top-five positions (Stages Seven and Eight) and two top 15 places (Stages Three and Six).
When chatting about the idea of an overall win, Gibbons said: “The team had mentioned it earlier in the Tour, and the riders had faith in me. The Sport Director Oli Cookson had faith in me as well, but I really didn’t think about it too much.
“I know that the Cameron Highland Stage (fourth stage, won by teammate Mekseb Debesay from Eritrea) was pretty tough, so I was more focused on getting as many stages as I could. After stage two, I didn’t think it was a possibility to take the overall win, but after stage four, I started to think that it really could happen.”
When talking about the key elements of great teamwork, Gibbons chatted about the need to have faith in every member of the team. “You need to trust in them and know and believe that they are going to commit for you no matter what,” he said.
He also spoke about the importance of communication. “If not feeling well, just be honest and open with your team,” he added.
The third key element mentioned, was the ability to switch off from cycling and talk about other topics unrelated to the sport: “When you’re on a tour with the yellow jersey then yes, of course there is a lot of pressure and stress with the main objective being keeping that yellow, but also to be able to switch away to something other than cycling is important.”
After Stage Five, the team headed into town together after dinner and bought ice creams, relaxed, chatted and walked around the mall for a while. “Something as little as that is really special because not many teams do it,” he added.
After the Tour de Langkawi victory, Gibbons was asked where his mind was in terms of setting the bar even higher. He said: “This win has given me confidence and has motivated me. I don’t’ want to rest on this, I really want to do more. I feel like I could have won more, and I should have won more, so in a way its motivated me to win as much as I can.
“Again, I still have to be realistic. In Malaysia, although the competition is very hard and it isn’t easy to win a race, it’s not Europe. It is going to be different but I’m definitely motivated and I have self belief, so I’m looking for a great season.”