Just 24 hours after vowing to remain aggressive in the hunt to claim his first professional win, current race leader Ryan Gibbons kept that promise with a stage 5 sprint victory on Sunday to all but secure the yellow jersey at Le Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia.
The 22-year-old South African has been turning heads all week with his all-round performances as both a sprinter and climber and was able to tick off a stage win after outgunning stage 3 winner and pre-race favourite Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Triestina) and Marco Benfatto (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), who was later relegated to the rear due to a sprinting infraction in the final 3km. With Benfatto’s penalty, stage 2 winner Travis McCabe (UnitedHealthcare) slipped into third place.
Gibbons, who also lifted the teal points jersey from stage 1 winner Scott Sunderland (IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness), was relieved following the 151.5km route from Meru Raya to Kuala Kubu Bharu.
“From the start, just getting second on stage 1 was a sense of achievement, but today I think it’s a bit of relief than anything else,” he admitted. “Also happy to finally get the win for my team and also for myself – the first of my career – so a very, very good day today.”
According to Gibbons the 300, false-flat finishing straight on freshly laid brick roads was the ideal runway to the line.
“I still think if I’m having a good day I can sprint on a flat road, but today with a little bit of a drag and the road service being brick suited me a bit more,” explained Gibbons. “My team was incredible and put me in a perfect position. It would have been harder not to win with the position they put me in, so I’m very, very grateful for their help.”
The win gives Dimension Data back-to-back stages in Langkawi, including Mekseb Debesay’s thrilling queen stage win in the Cameron Highlands on Saturday. Gibbons finished third on the day for this third podium in four days.
With Gibbons on track to become the third consecutive Dimension Data rider to claim the Langkawi crown, beginning with Algerian Youcef Reguigui in 2015 and fellow South African Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, team sports director Oli Cookson told Eurosport the pressure is still on.
“We can breathe slightly easier now, but there is still three stages left,” he said. “Obviously he has a few more seconds – a little more breathing room, but a lot can happen.
“After 40k when it was still full on, Ben O’Connor punctured and Nick [Dougall] was taken out and crashed, so you had two guys off the back at once and the convoys are a lot smaller here so you couldn’t use the cars to come back, and the bunch was also splitting with Ryan in the second lot – so a little bit of stress.
“It was a good day, but quite a stressful start.”
Stage 5 Classification
1. Ryan Gibbons, RSA, Dimension Data, 3:27:20
2. Jakub Mareczko, ITA, Wilier Triestina, s.t.
3. Travis McCabe, USA, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, s.t.
1. Ryan Gibbons, RSA, Dimension Data, 18:53:06
2. Cameron Bayley, AUS, IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness, +0:23
3. Alberto Cecchin, ITA, Wilier Triestina, +0:27
Race Leader (Yellow Jersey): Ryan Gibbons, RSA, Dimension Data
Points Leader (Teal Jersey): Ryan Gibbons, RSA, Dimension Data
Mountains leader (Red Jersey): John Ebsen, DEN, Infinite AIS Cycling Team
Best Asian Rider (White Jersey): Yevgeniy Gidich, KAZ, Vino-Astana Motors
Best Malaysian Rider: Mohd Zamri Saleh, Terengganu Cycling Team
Best Malaysian Rider Overall: Mohd Shahrul Mat Amin, MAS, Terengganu Cycling Team
Combativity Award: Fausto Masnada, Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec
Teams Classification: IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness, 56:40:49