Prior to the Tour de Langkawi, Ryan Gibbons was a relatively unknown name in the wider world of cycling. While his Dimension Data teammates were well aware of his capabilities, the 22-year-old South African is showcasing his wares to the general public as the current star attraction in Malaysia due his consistent results and status as race leader.
A day after his climb up Cameron Highlands to save the yellow jersey, Gibbons sprinted to his first professional win in Kuala Kubu Bhara, while wearing the leader's yellow jersey no less.
"Really, really great to get off the mark and so grateful," Gibbons told Cyclingnews of his victory. "I had belief in myself, the team had belief in me, Oli my DS had belief in me, and I think they said it was always a matter of time."
The stage win was Dimension Data's second in as many day's after Mekseb Debesay won the queen stage and continues the African team's love affair with success at the race.
While in previous years at the Tour de Langkawi, Andrea Guardini has asserted his dominance and got on a winning run, the sprinters in this year's race are taking turns to raise their arms in triumph. Second on stage 1, third on stages 2 and 4, Gibbons had been the most consistent rider at the halfway mark of the race but was desperate for a win. On stage 5, his stars aligned and he crossed the line in first place
"From the start, getting second on stage 1 was an achievement but today was a sense of relief more than anything and just so happy to get the win for the team and also for myself. The first of my career so a very good day today," he said.
The slightly uphill drag finish arguably suited Gibbons better than his sprint rivals and after another day of the team working for him, he hit out early and had time celebrate before crossing the line and repaying their toil.
"Not to be too arrogant, I think with 200 metres to go I was feeling good. I was in perfect position," he said of when he knew the stage was his. "I looked down and could see that no one was coming, I could feel no one was coming and with 100 metres to go I knew it was in the bag and sat down."
While the finale went in Gibbons’ favour, the fast and chaotic opening 40 kilometres were far from straight forward as the breakaway was trying to get established. A flat tyre to Ben O'Connor followed by a crash for Nick Dougall, and a split in the peloton that caught out Gibbons, briefly had the team on the ropes. However, there was no panic from the experienced heads on the team.
"They are two really strong powerful riders and at that point there was also a split in the race," he said of Dougall and O'Connor. "When that happened, the nerves were up there but Jacques, Adrien and Mekseb were around me and keep me calm. The team was phenomenal."
Having gained 12 seconds on second placed Cameron Bayly, who is now 23 seconds in arrears, misfortune and bad luck appear to be Gibbons greatest adversaries. With three stages to come, Dimension Data and Gibbons are on the cusp of history, as no team has ever claimed three straight overall Langkawi titles. Directeur sportif Oli Cookson isn't planning the party just yet, however.
"Obviously, he has a few more seconds now and a little more breathing room but a lot can happen," a cautious Cookson added.