Matt Gibson had a superb season in 2018. The 22 year-old sprinter took six road wins in total, more than any other British continental or U23 rider. In fact, only one other Brtish rider took the same number of wins: Geraint Thomas. Gibson’s wins included a stage victory and the points jersey in the notoriously competitive Tour de Normandie with his trade team JLT Condor and an eye-catching sprint win for Great Britain in the ‘U23 Tour de France’, the Tour de L’Avenir. He also demonstrated his speed by winning the national circuit championships, and finished top of the Britsh Cycling rankings.
I still think I have a lot of room for improvement and by no means believe I’m anywhere near my full potential yet
Gibson’s remarkable season is even more impressive when you consider the challenges he had in previous seasons. He was a high-achieving junior who then graduated to the senior Great Britain academy. Once there, he found himself with an outside chance of making the Rio Olympics squad, so pushed himself harder and harder in the hope of gaining selection. Instead, he contracted cytomegalovirus – a virus with similarities to the mononucleosis virus that Mark Cavendish has recently suffered from. He overcame the virus eventually and decided to focus on the road. He used the 2017 season as a transition year, with JLT Condor boss John Herety easing him back into racing to help him regain his form, fitness and confidence.
I knew it would just be a matter of time before the hard work I was putting in would get me back to a level which I knew was most definitely achievable
Next season Gibson will step up to Pro Continental level with the Spanish team Burgos BH. As it stands, he’ll be one of only two British riders in Pro Continental teams next season (the other one being Sam Brand at Team Novo Nordisk). His new team rode La Vuelta last season. So he might even be harbouring hopes of a first Grand Tour start later in the season, although he remains tight-lipped about his season’s goals when asked.
Burgos BH will start 2019 under a cloud, however. They have been suspended by the UCI following a series of positive doping tests and so will miss their first races of the season. Gibson does not seem overly worried about the ethos of the team though and is eager to get stuck back into racing after a long break (his last race was the Tour de L’Avenir in August).
We kicked off our questions by asking him to reflect on his 2018 season…
In an interview this time last year you said, “in 2018 I want to be as competitive as possible in the much longer road races and stage races.” Were you surprised at just how competitive you ended being?
If I’m honest no, I’m not surprised. Before I was ill I proved to myself a few times that I could cope with the distance, I knew it would just be a matter of time before the hard work I was putting in would get me back to a level which I knew was most definitely achievable. However, I still think I have a lot of room for improvement and by no means believe I’m anywhere near my full potential yet.
Of the successes you had last season, which one stands out for you and why?
I’d say that two stand out to me: the stage win in the Tour de L’Avenir and also the stage win in the Tour of Normandy. The win in the Tour of Normandy stands out because, other than the obvious fact it’s a big race for under 23s to prove themselves, it was when I proved to myself that I was good enough to win against that level of competition. This obviously did a lot for my confidence for the rest of the season.
Then secondly the stage win in L’Avenir. Although arguably it isn’t as hard a race as Normandy, it holds a lot more importance for World Tour teams when looking at up-and-coming talent. Which is obviously a massive thing for me as that’s my end goal, to ride for a World Tour team.
That’s my end goal, to ride for a World Tour team.
How did the ride with the Great Britain team in the Tour de L’Avenir come about? And what was your experience of riding the race?
L’Avenir was also a big ambition of mine from the start of the year, and a race which I’ve always wanted to ride. At the start of the year, I made this clear to Keith Lambert, one of the Academy coaches, who also coached me whilst I was on the British Cycling programme. I think at that time they would have been a little hesitant to select me for the race, but as the race grew nearer, I obviously proved myself enough on both the British and European scene to be up to the task.
As far as riding the race goes, it was a great experience. As I was a last-year under 23, it the last season I was eligible to ride the race. Coming out on the national crit series, and then breaking my hand only four weeks before, and only being able to get back out on the road just one week before, I maybe didn’t have the best preparation for a ten-day stage race. Even with all this, however, I was super motivated and gave it my all. That obviously shows with the stage win, which I was over the moon about. It’s always such a great relief to finally pull something off that you’ve been thinking about for months.
As well as the stage win, I was really proud of myself for finishing the race. Despite my less than perfect preparation, I gave it everything I had in the mountains, regularly finishing way out the back on my own, fighting to stay within the time limit. I am almost more proud of this than the stage win itself; to me, this proved to myself just how mentally strong I really am.
John Herety, the DS, has given me and countless other riders so much support over the years, and I personally owe a lot to him
After two years with JLT Condor, what are your views about the team’s closure?
It’s so sad to see such an amazing team disappear from the British scene. John Herety, the DS, has given me and countless other riders so much support over the years, and I personally owe a lot to him. The team itself was the longest running British Continental team and has had a lot of success inside and out of the UK. It’s a real shame to see it go, but unfortunately, these things happen.
I just hope that things start to pick up for British teams as it’s not the only one that folded in 2018 [Ed: One Pro Cycling and Holdsworth Pro Racing also closed]. Obviously sponsors come and go, so fingers crossed that is just a tough period for the British Conti scene and things will pick up in a few years’ time. I’d hate to see this happen to other teams in the near future.
And in 2019 you’ll step up to Pro Continental level with Burgos BH. It’s quite an unusual step for a young Brit used to racing in northern Europe. How did that transfer come about?
I obviously want to keep progressing in my cycling and Burgos BH seemed like a perfect platform for me to progress to racing bigger races without the pressure that some of the bigger Pro Conti teams and World Tour teams will put on their riders. I think this will be a brilliant place for me to get to grips with racing these bigger races against better competition whilst also learning about myself as an athlete and a human being. This will help me to continually improve, through finding out what works best for me.
I think it’s important to take my time with my progression, especially if you consider the past few years, where, in comparison to others, I’ve raced very little. I believe this approach will help me to become the best I can possibly be, whilst enjoying every step of the way. Which to me is the most important part! All of the team are really friendly and seem like really nice people, I am really looking forward to being to part of it.
It’s a real shame that we have to suffer for the actions on these narrow-minded selfish individuals
Did you know about the team’s likely doping suspension? Was that a concern for you at all?
It’s a real shame that we have to suffer for the actions on these narrow-minded selfish individuals. We will be missing two races at the start of the season because of them, one of which I was really looking forward to potentially riding. However, as I say, these are individual cases and the actions of these individuals do not one bit reflect the ethos on the team. So for that reason, I am not at all worried.
How are your preparations going for the new season?
Things are going really well for next season, I had a long break after this season as I didn’t race again after L’Avenir. This gave me plenty of time to relax, refocus and then slowly start building up towards next season. I don’t yet know what my first race will be, so for now I’m just enjoying training and riding my bike, which I feel so lucky to be able to do on a daily basis and as a job.
Finally, what are your goals for the season?
I have a few races in mind that I’d like to target, however you can’t say how the year is going to pan out this early on. At the moment I’m very motivated to keep training hard and I guess we’ll see what the year brings.
Featured photo: JLT Condor