First year rider Jonathan Dibben was the 59th of 123 starters and found himself in the hot seat after posting the fastest time of the day midway through the Big Bear Lake Time Trial. It was the first individual time trial of the year for the 23-year-old British rider, and the unexpected result made for tense waiting.
"It's rather excruciating to watch people come in and come close every time," Dibben said while waiting for the race to finish. "It's good but tense."
Dibben's time held for the remainder of the race, giving him the win while teammate Ian Boswell finished 21st, which dropped him to 5th in the GC. Boswell believed the experience this week, contending for the podium, increased his confidence and taught him how to fight for a GC result.
"It'd be nice to be on the podium, but I didn't want to have a Michael Rasmussen and have two bike crashes and three bike changes or something like that," Boswell said. "In the end, Talansky and Bookwalter both passed me, which I'm not really surprised because we didn't have a ton of time. I just keep improving, I'm not young anymore, but I know where I need to improve now."
Sky has a record of performing at the Tour of California, having won with Bradley Wiggins in 2014 and putting Sergio Henao on the podium in third place in 2015. Sky's GC hopes were dashed last season when team leader Peter Kennaugh crashed in stage 3, so the team came to the line this year with dual ambitions - go for the overall win and contend for the sprint stages.
"We came here with two goals, we wanted to go for Elia [Viviani] in the sprints and Boz for the GC," Dibben said. "That was pretty much our two goals, and I don't know how it's shaken up today, but it's gone OK so far, pretty good. I think we had Boz coming in today and we had Elia third on the first stage.
"The whole team is kind of two teams. We had me, Danny [van Poppel], Owain [Doull] and Elia for the sprints and then we had the rest of the guys for the GC. We will go for Elia again tomorrow I think, though I just found out it could be harder than we think."
Standing out at Team Sky is a challenging prospect, and the added burden of being a British rider on a British team can create unrealistic expectations for a neo-pro. Dibben seems completely comfortable, and at ease, with the program he's followed this season.
Heading into Friday's stage, Dibben was confident in his time trial abilities, and he admitted that he had been thinking about Big Bear Lake all week. Even though he had taken it easy on Thursday's climb up Mt. Baldy in preparation for today, he was still in disbelief at his first WorldTour victory.
"At altitude you can't really afford to go into the red too much, and so I went out there and let the pain come to me," Dibben said. "After a few K I was already swinging, and I just kept digging in. It wasn't really a target today, first time trial of the year. I figured I'd give it full gas and see how it goes and it couldn't have gone any better."
On any other team, Dibben's and Boswell's results in California might help them earn more leadership opportunities, but the Team Sky roster is filled with heavy hitters and podium potential. After the time trial, Boswell weighed the options in front of him, focus on grand tours or look at smaller races where he could again be in contention for a GC spot.
"This is a good starting point," Boswell said. "We are a deep team at Sky. I could have been third here and gotten to Tour de Suisse and been the sixth rider on the team."