Ryan Gibbons kicks off a new stage of his career for 2021, moving to UAE Team Emirates after five years spent in the Dimension Data setup. The South African sprinter heads to his new team seeking more opportunity after an injury-disrupted 2020 season.
Paradoxically, in moving from one of the weaker teams in the WorldTour to one of the best, it sounds like Gibbons might just get those chances. Speaking from the UAE Team Emirates pre-season training camp in Dubai, the 26-year-old outlined his plan for 2021.
"One of the big reasons I came here was just to get some opportunities," he told Cyclingnews. "I've had the privilege of doing some of the biggest races in the world, but what I've always wanted was the opportunity to go for myself, albeit in a .1 or .HC race.
"I'm going to get that this year, I'll get to do a lot of races for myself, maybe the 'lesser' races if you want to call them that – but just an opportunity to try and win some races.
"I'll be doing the Vuelta as well, though by that time of year we'll see if I'm going to work or am I going to get an opportunity for myself. So, I'm really, really grateful for the opportunity and the team's faith in me, and now it's up to me."
Gibbons raced his first Tour de France last year, battling it out to the end with several broken ribs, and also won his first national road race title, beating Daryl Impey in a reverse of the 2019 result. They were the high points of a hard season for everyone, but Gibbons said that his year was largely a disappointing one that he'll look forward to putting behind him.
"Personally, it wasn't an overly successful year for me. it was quite frustrating – well it was for everyone. I won my national championships, which was great, and got to do my first Tour de France, which was great. But other than that, it was a frustrating and hard year.
"I didn't really get my own opportunities and when I did, I was injured. I went into the Tour with two broken ribs from Wallonie, and then broke another one on stage 1, so it was just a battle. I'm really glad I can close the chapter on 2020 and hopefully it can't be worse this year."
To compound the misery, his team came under threat in September after title sponsors Dimension Data announced their withdrawal, and for two months uncertainty reigned before Assos stepped in to save the squad.
Gibbons' move away from the team he turned pro with was announced late in October, a month after his season had ended and several weeks before Qhubeka Assos came into being. But, he told Cyclingnews, his future had been secured during the summer, thus avoiding the waiting game a number of his ex-teammates had endured.
"I had signed with this team midway through last year, so that was a few months before we even knew there was trouble at Dimension Data," he said. "I'm really fortunate to get the opportunity and I'm glad I took it. I think I would've been a lot more stressed had I not, but the plan was always for me to move regardless of what was happening there at that setup.
"I got the contract just before the Tour of Pologne, so even before the racing season restarted after COVID-19, it was a done deal."
Gibbons said he was relishing the chances his new team are giving him, with the Classics also a personal goal of his. Recovering from his broken ribs forced him to miss out on October's slate of rescheduled Classics.
He'll play a supporting role for team leaders Alexander Kristoff and Matteo Trentin in the biggest spring races, but will have chances of his own, too. Despite a lack of grand results in the Classics, Gibbons said his team think he's well-suited to the rigours of cobbles.
"I'll be going in supporting role at the Classics for Kristoff and Trentin, which I think is great," he said. "I'll race some of the early Classics – after Opening Weekend you get a few in Belgium that aren't WorldTour ones. They're shorter but tough in their own right, so I'll be giving them a go. Then we'll see how it goes, how the form is, and whether I'm getting results or not.
"It's a hard one because personally I'm scared of the Classics and I appreciate the guys who do well there. But you either have it or you don't. Thus far, I haven't, but the team – based on my numbers, what I can do in training, and my physiology – they believe that I should be a good Classics rider, so we're going to give it a go and then who knows?
"It's all a state of mind, the Classics, more than anything – you've got to have good legs, good luck and the right mindset. Hopefully if you can tick two of those boxes then you can just take it as it comes."
Gibbons kicks off his UAE Team Emirates career at the GP La Marseillaise on January 31, with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana also among his early season targets.
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