Interview: Jon Dibben on swapping Manchester for the blue Sky ahead
World points race champion wants to 'learn from the best' after Team Sky switch
Jon Dibben has finished the year by swapping rainy Manchester for wall-to-wall sunshine on the Cote d’Azure. This might in itself be sufficient reward for his graduation from British Cycling’s Olympic Academy to the ranks of Team Sky, but the 22-year-old’s ambition extends beyond gaining a suntan.
When RCUK speaks to Dibben, he is digging another sunny scene, training on Mallorca with his new team-mates, relishing the opportunity to learn from the best riders in the sport and continuing an education that has already yielded a rainbow jersey on the track and interest from at least one other WorldTour team.
After riding the Tour of Utah with Cannondale Pro Cycling, however, Dibben confounded expectation by signing with Sir Dave Brailsford’s men in black, the professional wing of the national federation. But is joining Sky not a double-edged sword?
“I think it’s the best team," Dibben says simply. “Yes, you’ve got to fight for selection, you’re a small fish in a big pond, but if you want to be the best at anything in your career, you’ve got to learn, and there’s no better place to learn than at Sky."
He is one of three Academy graduates recruited by Brailsford this year, alongside Tao Geoghegan Hart and Owain Doull. With Hugh Carthy (Cannondale) and James Shaw (Lotto-Soudal), Britain’s class of 2016 is one of the most promising to have made the professional grade.
“I know them all really well," Dibben says. “A couple are my age, some are a year above, some a year below. It’s good to know that the people you’ve been racing for a while are good bike riders."
Naturally, Dibben’s closest bonds are to those with whom he trained at the Academy and with whom he has now joined Sky: Doull and Geoghegan Hart. He acknowledges the shared ethos between the federation and the professional team. The focus on discipline, results, and, above all, success, will doubtless give him a head start with his new employer.
“The rider is at the heart of everything," Dibben says of the greatest similarity between his old world and the new. “And winning."
He continues: “It’s so dialed. The Academy is an Olympic-funded programme [Lottery cash linked to medal success at the Games]. You have to keep winning to receive funding.
“There was pressure. It was fully results driven. From that, the whole system is one where every detail is considered.
“Even when you join the Academy at 18, you’re made aware of how important everything is. It’s not just about bike racing. It’s about the whole lifestyle. The first couple of weeks are a boot camp and you get dialed and disciplined, and that stays with you."
What appears not to have stayed with him is the disappointment that must have followed his failure to gain selection for the Olympic Games in Rio.
One suspects this has much to do with the considerable mitigation of having broken his elbow in April, an injury suffered in a seemingly innocuous crash at ZLM Toer.
Certainly, there is little more he could have done to prove himself to selectors until that point. As February drew to a close, and with it the UCI Track World Championship in London, Dibben’s place in Rio seemed assured.
He had already gained a silver medal as part of the four-man team pursuit squad led by Bradley Wiggins, before going one better the following day to win the points race before a passionate crowd at the Olympic Velodrome in Lea Valley.
“The moment I crashed, I knew it wasn’t ideal," he says of his mishap in the Netherlands. “Selection was already a dog fight. It was always going to be a bit of a chase. My whole plan for the year was not to be on the back foot.
“I wanted to hit the ground running, as I did with the Worlds. At the end of the day, I wasn’t selected, and that was that."
Dibben recalls the disappointment in matter-of-fact tone. He has, after all, much more to celebrate from his latest campaign.
Second on the road at two of the most prestigious espoir races – the Ronde van Vlaanderen Beloften and Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux – and that performance in London must surely provide happy memories.
Unsurprisingly, it is his World Championship victory, achieved in front of a passionate home support, that seems to hold the greatest significance, even if now his destiny will be shaped by performances on the road.
“It really was quite something to do it with London," he remembers of being crowned world champion in the points race at a venue where Team GB had swept the board at London 2012.
“After the final with the Aussies at 10pm the night before, and with the way that British Cycling are, with the team pursuit being the be all and end all, you ride the rest with what you’ve got left.
“I could have not finished the points race and there would have been no pressure, but it was really good to go out and get a win for the boys. The points race is my favourite. There’s so much going on. You’re racing against everyone, and with a home crowd, it really did make a difference. It just gives you that extra boost."
Now, Dibben is focussed on new goals, even if personal ambition must be set aside for the greater glory of Sky, and thoughts of victory will be subsumed by the more mundane realities of learning a trade.
He will spend a week with his parents in Southampton over Christmas, taking the opportunity to catch up with Pete and Andy Hargroves of Hargroves Cycles, the shop team where he made his start.
From there beckons a life among the colony of professional cyclists who have made a home in Monaco and Nice. Victories will not be expected of Dibben in 2017, but he will continue to expect much from himself. Sky’s last recruit for the coming season will not lack for discipline, determination and desire. And after two years in sun-starved Manchester, he will no longer lack for Vitamin D either.