Ian Bibby is back on Mallorca, a little over 12 months since climbing the Sóller and Puig Major in the company of Vuelta a Espana winner, Alejandro Valverde, Team Sky’s Colombian climbing sensation, Sergio Henao, and future world road race champion, Rui Costa.
Madison Genesis manager, Roger Hammond, had gained a place for his young team in last year’s Challenge Mallorca event, routinely used as an early-season warm up by the WorldTour outfits training on the island. Offered the opportunity to prove himself against the world’s best, Bibby seized it with both hands, finishing tenth on the mountainous final stage.
Four months later, and Bibby suffered an early setback to a season in which many observers expected him be a dominant force on the domestic scene by crashing at the Kirkcaldy round of the Tour Series. With rider rotation then not an option for the since-expanded Madison Genesis squad, Bibby recovered by riding every round and contributing to a performance that placed the Milton Keynes outfit second at the end of the series.
RideLondon, and when you go down south for the Tour of Britain, is brilliant. It’s what motivates you to try and get to that level and do those races more often – Ian Bibby
As the Tour of Britain approached, Bibby, nominated leader for the team’s most important engagement of the season, worked with Hammond’s former Garmin team-mate, Daniel Lloyd, posting impressive numbers that confirmed in the minds of those working closely with him that given a clear run, the Preston rider could prove himself the equal of his WorldTour counterparts. Another crash, this time in Belgium in the lead-up to Britain’s biggest race, left Bibby with muscular damage to his left side, and when he crashed again at the Tour of Britain, aggravating his earlier injuries, the seeds of his abandonment on stage six were sewn.
This season will be critical for Bibby, a rider with the physical attributes and tactical abilities fit for the WorldTour in the opinion of some who have worked closely with him. He insists that he has not given up on a place in cycling’s top-tier and with Premier Calendar and national cyclo-cross titles on his palmares, has already proved that he is a match for any on the domestic scene, regardless of terrain. Hammond, who excelled in both disciplines, has retained Bibby for 2014, and rider and manager will hope for a season less plagued by accident and injury than last year.
Bibby has for so long occupied a position in the front rank of the domestic peloton that it’s easy to overlook that he is only in his fifth season on the road. Premier Calendar champion with Motorpoint in 2011, the season in which he was lying sixth overall in the Tour of Britain, 19 seconds off the lead with two stages remaining, when a crash, this time with Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, ended his race, Bibby joined the all-conquering Endura Racing in 2012, and was signed by Madison Genesis last year.
He is about to begin his second season with Madison Genesis, and this year will race as part of a significantly strengthened squad. Bibby says he enjoys working with Hammond, who, like him, understands the allure of ‘cross racing. Hammond’s success off-road, a tally that includes seven national titles, began with victory in the world junior championships. Bibby has only competed in the ‘cross world championships as a junior and says he would love to compete in the senior championships should he know his road programme far enough in advance to plan a concerted ‘cross campaign.
Hammond’s expanded squad, and its significant strengthening in the form of Kiwi recruits, Tom Scully and Mike Northey, as well as Belfast-born Pete Hawkins, means that Bibby is unlikely to feel the pressure of sole leadership in 2014. He has experienced different roles in his short career, leading the charge with Jonny McEvoy and Marcin Bialoblocki for Motorpoint in 2011, and riding as domestique at Endura Racing in 2012.
Last year, he led the Madison Genesis team at the Tour of Britain as well as at every round of the Tour Series and welcomes his team’s new strength in depth. What he describes as the “mix and match” approach adopted by rival teams at the Tour Series was effective, he believes, and will be open to Madison Genesis in 2014. He is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and do a job for his team-mates if required, and believes that if the team is performing well, his own chances will come.
The British teams always step it up at the Tour of Britain. It shows the level in Britain is pretty good. It just proves that it’s not easy to win here – Ian Bibby
Asked to describe the races that suit him best, and Bibby identifies himself as “a bit of an all-rounder”, one able to climb, and able to sprint from a group “whittled down” by a demanding parcours. His abilities are evident in victories at the Tour of the Reservoir and a second place at the Lincoln Grand Prix, where he missed out on victory by the narrowest of margins, pipped on the line by a rider who would become his team-mate at Endura Racing, Scott Thwaites.
Bibby says the British races suit him well, but an international programme is important and he admits that he hasn’t shelved his ultimate ambition: to compete against cycling’s best. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, really: to race at the top level,” he says. “I’m not really giving up on that. I’m looking for another good year. It’s never too late. I’ll keep trying; try and do well for the team and if something like that comes along, I’ll push for it a bit and hopefully it might happen.”
The biggest domestic races are those Bibby admits to getting ‘geed up’ for. He identifies the Lincoln Grand Prix, RideLondon and the Tour of Britain. The last two, he says, offer an opportunity to ride against the biggest names in the sport and for the domestic riders to show what they can do against them. “It’s a pretty amazing feeling,” Bibby says of riding at events where even riders from the WorldTour are taken aback by the scale of support at the roadside. “RideLondon, and when you go down south for the Tour of Britain, is brilliant. It’s what basically motivates you to try and get to that level and do those races more often.”
If you look at the Tour of Britain in the last few years, it’s got bigger and bigger and bigger. You hear a lot of the foreign riders say there are bigger crowds on Dartmoor than on the Giro climbs – Ian Bibby
He has first hand experience of the effect that riding against the world’s best, and on home soil, has on the domestic teams. One insider describes Bibby as the strongest rider in the race at the 2011 Tour of Britain, and he was part of the race-winning team in 2012. This year he will compete in a squad with Hawkins and Northey, two riders whose aggression and refusal to be cowed by reputation helped light up last year’s race. “The British teams always step it up a bit,” he says. “It shows the level in Britain is pretty good. It just proves that it’s not easy to win here.”
“If you look at the Tour of Britain in the last few years, it’s got bigger and bigger and bigger,” he continues. “The racing on Dartmoor is pretty unbelievable. You hear a lot of the foreign riders who’ve done the Giro and stuff like that say there are bigger crowds on Dartmoor than on the Giro climbs.”
Road races, home and abroad, will account for much of Bibby’s season, but as one of the team’s all-rounders, he is likely to be called upon to race in the Tour Series of city centre criteriums, too. The series, which this year will be held over 12 rounds in 10 locations, and include a hill climb for the first time, has gained in popularity with each passing year. Television coverage has massively increased its importance to team sponsors.
Bibby is predicting a close series contested by evenly-matched teams. Madison Genesis, he says, will have to “rip it up” to derail the ambitions of sprinter-laden squads. He places the Tour Series races alongside the biggest domestic road races for atmosphere and identifies Durham as his favourite round, one he says that encourages the riders to “get stuck in”.
From the A6 to Alcudia
For Preston-based Bibby, reduced to riding up and down the A6 when the weather of yet another appalling winter was at its worst, the training camp in Mallorca has offered a chance to ride consistently, day after day. His only previous opportunities in recent months have come on riding holidays with friends: Lanzarote with McEvoy, and later in France with current colleagues, Liam Holohan and Dom Jelfs.
Timing the efforts of a training camp are critical to the season ahead. Madison Genesis will not race until April and so their sojourn in Mallorca has been delayed to the first week of March. For Bibby, riding in the Balearic sunshine after a seemingly endless British winter must be a refreshing change. Climbing the slopes of the Sa Calobra he looks relaxed, but purposeful. He has shown what he is capable of on Mallorca, against the best opposition, and will seek to do so again this season, on British soil as well as overseas.