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‘Make or break’: Peter Kibble interview

Talented Welshman talks about the pressure of being a final-year U23, his 2019 season and the Wales Racing Academy

Wales Racing Academy’s Peter Kibble enter’s his final season as an under-23 this year. It’s a time in a rider’s career when the pressure mounts. Riders not yet snapped up by professional teams often see this year as their final chance to ‘make it’ in the world of cycling. There are plenty of exceptions; riders who graduate to the pro ranks after they’ve passed this artificial cut-off point. Gabriel Cullaigh’s move to Movistar is one of several recent examples. Nonetheless, there is a sense for many final-year under-23 riders that the clock is ticking, and that their window of opportunity to make a career in professional cycling is beginning to close.

My goal is to sign for a Conti or Pro Conti team and if doesn’t happen I will have to look again at what I’m going to do with my life

In this interview with Kibble, he confesses that he is feeling the pressure – mostly self-imposed – as he starts what he agrees is a ‘make or break’ year for him.

It is Kibble’s third year at the Wales Racing Academy, a team where he seems to feel very much at home. The set-up, run by former domestic racing start Rob Partridge, is supported by Sport Wales with the aim of developing Welsh racing talent on the road and track.

In his first two seasons with the Academy, Kibble has shown a lot of promise, despite the second half of 2019 being disrupted by injury, the recovery from which he found mentally, as well as physically, challenging. An assault on the king of the mountains competition at the notoriously tough Tour de Bretagne (2.2) in April last year saw the him narrowly miss out, finishing just a handful of points behind the winner, Adrien Lagrée. He has been knocking on the door of top 10 results in National A races too. Last season, he was 12th in the South Coast Classic and in 2018 he was 13th in the Klondike Grand Prix, a year in which he also finished 13th overall in the Rás (2.2). The sense is, with a run of good form, a top result could be just around the corner this year…

Peter Kibble. Photo: Gary Main

Tell us how you got into cycling…

I got into cycling at a really young age. This was mostly as a result of my Dad, who was a professional triathlete, so sport ran in the blood. It was only a matter of time before I was hooked on something sport-related and that happened to be cycling; firstly mountain biking, then switching to road.

How would describe yourself as a cyclist? What kind of races do you enjoy?

I’m climber firstly, but last season and heading into 2020, I’ve really tried to diversify myself into more of a ‘do it all’ rider. So instead of putting all my eggs in one basket, I can open myself up to other opportunities for results. 

You began life as an under-23 rider at Zappi racing. How did that go for you?

I’d say it was a learning curve and definitely a lot different to the structured well-looked-after Welsh junior set-up I had left before I joined them. I learned a lot that year in Italy with Flavio but things just didn’t gel for me. The idea of the Wales Racing Academy was put to me and it was a really appealing proposition, especially heading into a Commonwealth Games year. 

Having Rob Partridge to oversee us is great. He goes above and beyond for us

And you’re now about to start your third season with the Wales Racing Academy. What’s the set-up like at that team?

I really enjoy being part of the Academy. It’s a great environment to be in with. Especially with our 2020 line up, there is a great group of individuals to be around. Having Rob Partridge to oversee us is great. He goes above and beyond for us. And his experience is super-valuable heading into all of these races that he’s done himself.

At the 2019 Tour de Bretagne. Photo: Cassandra Donne

The Academy is directly linked to Sport Wales, so we get access to their performance centre. This means we get use of the gym, a nutritionist, a psychologist and various other facilities through the National Sports Centre in Cardiff. I feel getting access to these is above and beyond what would be available to a rider at most teams.

What’s kept you at the Academy do you think? 

I think I just gel with the set-up and it’s what I know works for me at this time in my career. The support we get is fantastic and the access to facilities through Sport Wales is second only to GB, I’d say, at this level in the sport. I’m very grateful to be given the opportunity to ride for Wales over these years.

I felt these results really showed a glimpse of what I have to give

Describe how last season went for you…

It was very much a season of two halves for me. I was going well from March to May, both in terms of my results and the shape and mindset I was in. The main highlight was holding the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour of Bretagne for five stages and riding really aggressively there. I also came second in the Betty Pharaoh road race to Connor Swift and second in the Totnes two-day to Steve Lampier by a mere 1 second. I felt these results really showed a glimpse of what I have to give.

In the King of the Mountains jersey at the 2019 Tour de Bretagne. Photo: Audrey Duval

It then took a turn a week or so after the Tour de Bretagne where I had some lingering health issues. I couldn’t train properly for three weeks after that. I got back to racing in Belgium and crashed badly early into the race, landing on my face and knee. I needed surgery on my face and many stitches, which was far from pleasant. When I got back to riding, I then had a knee issue which kept me off the bike further and required a lot of rehab and physio work.

Self-doubt plagued my ability to produce the results I was capable of for the latter part of the year

So this period was a nightmare six weeks of constant knock-backs where I couldn’t do any meaningful work. This really affected my confidence and self-esteem, as I gain a lot of my confidence from the preparation and training I do going into races. Then I’d say self-doubt plagued my ability to produce the results I was capable of for the latter part of the year. It’s something I’ve worked on a lot this winter, so it won’t be a hurdle for me in 2020.

At 2020 winter training camp. Photo: Rob Partridge

What has that work involved?

Through this winter I’ve done a fair bit of work on looking at the areas in which I can control and really try to take confidence in them so I can go into a race confident that what I’ve done beforehand stands me in good stead to produce my best possible performances. And having some really great people around me to talk to helps loads too. It’s always good to have those people who are there to tell you there’s more to life than cycling and help you get your head out of thinking about the sport 24/7. 

I really am motivated to seize my last chance this year to get solid results

It’s your last season as an under-23 this year. Does that add a lot of pressure?

I feel a bit of pressure from Welsh Cycling but I mostly pile it on myself as I want to achieve what I set out to do. The only thing that helps me take the pressure off is that I’ve explored a few other career paths as a back-up if cycling doesn’t work out for me. So that puts my mind at ease. I really am motivated to seize my last chance this year to get solid results.

To what extent is a ‘make or break’ year in that sense?

I’d say very much so in my mind. By the end of 2020, my goal is to sign for a Conti or Pro Conti team and if that doesn’t happen I will have to look again at what I’m going to do with my life. Once you leave the under-23 category, it gets a whole lot harder to get onto teams.

What is ‘making it’ in your eyes? 

Making it for me would be getting onto a Pro Conti or WorldTour team.

Photo: Gary Main

What kind of race programme are you likely to have this season? Are there any races in particular you are aiming for?

This season we are looking to do at lot more European races which I’m super happy about. We’ll still be doing a good chunk of the National Road Series too. I’m really hoping we get a ride in in the Tour de Bretagne and the Flèche de Sud again. I’d really like to target the GC and try for stage results in these two races. They are the ones most likely to get me noticed to progress up a level.

What would a successful season look like for you in 2020?

To win and ‘top five’ in as many UCI races as I can. I just want to make it the most consistent year I can, to tally up the results to put on my CV and to step up to the next level.