Jon Dibben eyes up the Spring Clas­sics

In his first year as a pro, Team Sky’s Jon Dibben has shown de­ter­mi­na­tion, abil­ity and a will­ing­ness to learn

Cycling Weekly - - Front Page - So­phie Smith

There is one thing I re­ally want to ask Jonathan Dibben when we meet at the Tour Down Un­der, where he is start­ing his 2018 sea­son work­ing for Sky team-mates. De­ter­mi­na­tion is a hall­mark among ath­letes but the 23-year-old rider’s willpower is cu­ri­ous.

A score on Dibben’s 2017 rookie pro re­sults sheet begs a ques­tion, and it’s not the stage six time trial vic­tory at the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia, or Ham­mer Se­ries Lim­burg ti­tle.

Sat in a ho­tel lobby in Ade­laide, I in­stead ask the as­pir­ing Sky Clas­sics spe­cial­ist about the ‘OOT’ he recorded at Paris-roubaix.

Race veter­ans say reach­ing the velo­drome is achieve­ment in it­self, so a neo-pro would cer­tainly be for­given for sur­ren­der­ing at their first at­tempt. Yet Dibben, in the fastest edi­tion ever raced, per­se­vered to en­ter the velo­drome and com­plete the course 47 min­utes in ar­rears of the win­ner Greg Van Aver­maet (BMC).

“I wouldn’t class it as a fin­ish,” he cor­rects, adding that the iconic show­ers served as lit­tle im­pe­tus. “I don’t know if any­one uses those show­ers any­more.”

Dibben de­scribes 2017 as a year of two halves — up to the Tour de Suisse and af­ter it, when he started to fa­tigue in what was a 10-month sea­son fol­low­ing ten­ure at Team Wig­gins, and Can­non­dale-dra­pac as a trainee.

“Last year I was in­con­sis­tent in a word. I had a good first half and av­er­age se­cond half,” he ex­plains. “I cer­tainly learned a hell of a lot. The length of your sea­son to start with; that’s a long sea­son.”

The GB Academy grad­u­ate is one of sev­eral fresh faces Sky has re­cruited in re­cent years. Dibben, a for­mer world cham­pion on the track, isn’t eas­ily daunted. He is as­sured, has fa­mil­iar con­tem­po­raries from his time in the na­tional academy and is clearly en­joy­ing it. “It’s cer­tainly not a job. It’s pretty damn good, es­pe­cially liv­ing with my girl­friend, Abby [Mae Parkin­son who rides for Trek­drops], in France now,” he says.

“Peo­ple like G [Geraint Thomas] I didn’t re­ally know at all be­fore join­ing the team but by the end of a two-week train­ing camp you feel like ev­ery­one is your mate.”

How­ever, it’s his per­for­mances at the Spring Clas­sics, specif­i­cally at Roubaix, which pro­vide the most per­ti­nent in­sight into Dibben’s na­ture. Sky tasked him with cov­er­ing moves in the first 100km where the pelo­ton av­er­aged 50kph. He was “cooked” when the bunch hit the first pavé sec­tor. Re­mark­ably, he car­ried on to sec­tor nine where he punc­tured and then waited for the broomwagon — to get a spare wheel.

“I just stood there for 10 min­utes,” he re­calls. “Spec­ta­tors of­fered me beers. I thought, I’ve not hacked the last three hours in a lit­tle group just to get in the broomwagon with 20km to go.”

Dibben isn’t an overzeal­ous re­cruit. His per­for­mances in the weeks prior to Roubaix were more con­ser­va­tive; he did his job for the team and then aban­doned.

“I had a lot bet­ter ride at the Tour of Flan­ders and at Ghent-wevel­gem the week be­fore that com­pared to Roubaix,” he con­tin­ues some­what iron­i­cally.

“It’s that whole Clas­sics block; talk­ing about it now gets me ex­cited. Last year we had the same ho­tel the whole block [in Kor­trijk, Bel­gium], same team ev­ery race and it’s that real do or die. Those races if there’s even a hint of a gap you go for it,” he says.

Sky vir­tu­ally sent the youngest con­tin­gent of its Clas­sics squad, in­clud­ing Dibben, to Aus­tralia. The out­fit is renowned for wield­ing es­tab­lished cham­pi­ons but less so de­vel­op­ing tal­ent. It’s a per­cep­tion of which per­for­mance man­ager Rod Elling­worth is well aware.

““The early years of our team were al­ways dif­fi­cult be­cause when you’re try­ing to win the Grand Tours you’ve got to have guys who can sit on the front all day,” Elling­worth says. “In that way it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to de­velop rid­ers if you were just go­ing to go purely for a de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme.

“We’ve com­mit­ted to this young group be­cause we be­lieve now we’ve got ideas to take it for­ward.”

Dibben fol­lowed his older brother into cy­cling. His sib­ling, af­ter a cou­ple of years rac­ing and break­ing bones in Bel­gium, now has a “real job” in Lon­don. Dibben, on the other hand, has bought into Sky’s long game.

“I don’t feel last year I was just slug­ging away in a race,” he says. “Sky have got more fo­cus on mak­ing sure they do de­velop younger guys now. Gianni Moscon is a re­ally good ex­am­ple. In his first year, he did what­ever the team asked and then stepped up last year and was fifth in Roubaix. Now he’s earned the right to be a joint leader at the Clas­sics com­ing into this year.”

Dibben was fa­tigued at the end of 2017, but is mo­ti­vated for a new year in which he aims to sup­port team-mates into the tele­vised part of the Clas­sics, and pos­si­bly even se­cure a ride at the Vuelta a Es­paña.

“As well as take any op­por­tu­ni­ties that come,” he adds, point­ing to how Sky re­set their plan at the Tour Down Un­der when des­ig­nated sprinter Kristof­fer Halvorsen crashed out.

“Look at [Chris] Law­less, he didn’t ex­pect to come here and sprint but now he has three stages to have a go with a full team back­ing him. The mo­ment those op­por­tu­ni­ties come you need to be ready for them,” Dibben says.

“Last year I was in­con­sis­tent in a word — but I cer­tainly learned a lot”

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