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Ryan Gibbons – Tour de France Diary

Ryan Gibbons is making his Tour de France debut this year. The versatile NTT Pro Cycling rider is the current South African champion and he’s eager to show off his national championships jersey on the biggest stage of them all.

In a year where media availability is scarce due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are happy to be able to bring you behind the scenes and as close to the action as possible when Gibbons will post a diary entry after every stage of the Tour. So make sure to bookmark this page and check back in every evening to hear a candid and unfiltered reportage right from the heart of the Tour de France 2020.

Stage 21 (20/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 21 ©A.S.O

Yesterday was quite something, huh? We were watching it in the car on the phone during our transfer and it was just unbelievable to see how things unfolded.

Physically, I’m feeling better and better every day. I still had a few problems to stay in the aero position on the TT bike but it’s going in the right direction. More than anything, this has been a really tough Tour for me mentally. Knowing that I’m not at my real level, due to the injuries, and therefore not being able to show what I can do, that has really been a challenge for me.

Looking back at these past three weeks in my first Tour de France, a big difference for me has been how the gruppetto works. In all the other Grand Tours I’ve done, there has still been some kind of a gruppetto but it’s more just the front group and then smaller groups of riders all over the place. In the Tour however, there was always a big group of 50-60 riders that would stick together and wouldn’t try to drop the weaker riders to get rid of the sprinters. There is a lot of respect here. If there is a group a minute behind, you wait for them so we can get through it together. That was quite interesting to experience.

Talking about today’s final stage of the race, we will be going all out for Eddy [Boasson Hagen, edt.] Every single time he has been riding on the Champs-Élysées, he has finished in Top 10. I think he has been second a few times and fourth a few times and so on. He has got the experience and he’s super motivated for today!

In the past, Eddy has always been kind of alone in the deep, deep final, so if we can work together the way that we are capable of and put him in a good position, I think he has a good chance. Bennett has got to be the favorite as he’s been really dominant lately but let’s hope we can do something. I definitely hope to show off the South African jersey at the front in Paris. Fingers crossed!

Thank you for reading along all these days. See you soon!

Stage 18 (17/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 18 ©A.S.O

The body is getting better and better. I’m still not where I can be – or should be, but I’ve gotten through these last two days much better than I did the whole first week. It’s definitely going in the right direction.

It’s interesting to see who’s in the gruppetto at the moment. These last couple of days, you see people there that you normally wouldn’t see and you never know if it’s because they’re having a bad day or if they are saving themselves for another day. Somebody like Van Avermaet for example. He’s usually always in the top 30 % but today he was at the back quite early. Maybe he’s struggling or maybe he’s saving strength. I don’t know.

Then you also have Bennett there. He has really been struggling but hats off for him for enduring this. It’s really impressive what he has been doing and I don’t think it will be possible to pull that green jersey off of him.  

Speaking about tomorrow, I’m definitely keen to try something but I don’t really know how it’s going to go. There are so many opinions right now about what’s going to happen tomorrow. Will it be an early breakaway? Will it be another massive fight for the breakaway? Will it be one of those classic races where the group just gets smaller and smaller towards the end? It’s hard to plan for this stage but I’m definitely keen and I think the stage suits our whole team so we are really motivated for this one.

These kinds of stages are always tricky though. You know it’s going to be a hectic day when the race official says “10 minutes to the start” and you already have 100 riders on the starting line. Especially when people cut you off and risk their lives to be on the front line already in the neutral zone, then it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen that day.

Let’s see what kind of day we are getting tomorrow. We definitely have a team with options.

Stage 17 (16/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 17 ©A.S.O

My first thought when I saw that final ramp? I think it’s best if I don’t share that. Let’s just say it was many, many bad words… It was just unbelievable.

Both climbs today were long and relentless but it went okay for me. The first 16-17 km of that last climb were actually alright. It was always going to be hard but that last ramp… That was just unnecessary. Wow, wow, wow… That was really quite something!

Once again, it was a massive fight early on to make it into the break and when you see who ended up getting away, it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to be me. After the break went, it kind of settled  down a bit. The peloton didn’t give the group too much of a gap though so it was pretty clear that Jumbo-Visma were comfortable with Roglic for the final.

When we hit the first climb, it exploded again. I don’t think the yellow jersey group went too hard but it was too hard for me. I then found myself in a very big group – I want to call it the peloton because it was definitely the biggest group on the road. Quintana was there so he has obviously had a bad day

During the day, there was always that worry about the time cut so it wasn’t easy going up the climbs and those steep kickers at the end of the stage were really painful.

I’m very glad that it’s over with but having said that, I’m really not looking forward to tomorrow’s stage. I think at least 100 riders in the peloton feel the exact same way. Let’s see how it goes…

Stage 16 (15/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 16 ©A.S.O

Today was really hard in the beginning. We expected that due to the uphill start on narrow roads and people always like to take advantage the day after a rest day to test everyone’s legs. It was very fast and I think just about everyone was on the limit. Those that eventually made the break were there because they deserved to be there, not because they got lucky and snuck away.

After that start it may have seemed easy on TV because of the gap but it was truly only 10 minutes that were relaxed. After that, it was pretty steady on the pedals all day. I am feeling better from my stomach issues but my ribs are starting to act up and I was in a fair bit of pain the last hour and have been since the end of the stage. Apparently that could be common with rib fractures but it’s a bit frustrating

Fortunately, my legs are alright so I’ll  be fine to cruise through the next two mountain days.

Rest Day 2 (14/09)

Yesterday, I felt a bit better on the bike. The body is still taking a beating but I believe the worst is behind me. At least, I feel much more confident heading into the final week of the Tour now. Last Friday, I would probably have said that I would be in a coffin right now but luckily, it’s getting better.

Already on stage 2, while suffering from a broken rib, I told myself that if I can get through this, I can get through anything – and I was reminded of that the last few days. I was definitely in a dark place during Friday’s stage. Already from the start of the day, I could feel that I just had zero power in the legs. I was dropped after one kilometer and I had to chase all by myself.

Eventually, I made it back just as we started on the first categorized climb and then I got dropped immediately again. At one point, we actually passed by the hotel we had stayed at that previous night and I told myself that since it’s very likely I wouldn’t finish the stage, I might as well just stop now. But I kept going and kept going and fortunately, I saw Caleb [Ewan, edt.] and De Buyst further up the road and slowly things got a little bit brighter for me. I knew that the Lotto-Soudal team is pretty solid and calculated, so if I could just stay with Caleb, I should be okay. However, I admit that throughout a good hour of that day, I was convinced that it was going to be my last day in the Tour de France. Had Caleb not been dropped as well, I would most likely be home in Girona right now.

Luckily, I felt better the following days and I was really never in difficulties on Sunday’s stage, which is very motivating for me! The next three days are still going to be miserable but I hope to keep on improving and to be able to get through these hard mountain stages quite easily. Hopefully, Friday’s stage can be a good opportunity for me if the body is back to where I know it can be – and should be. And then of course Sunday’s stage in Paris.

Speaking of what’s happening in the race, everybody is still blown away by the pace at which we are going. I’ve done grand tours before and people are always talking about how fast the pace is but in this race, everybody is honestly thinking that it’s just unbelievable. For example, yesterday, it was such a hard fight to get into the breakaway and as soon as it got away, Jumbo-Visma went to the front and the peloton was immediately in one line. The pace was relentless. Even if this had been a flat stage, the pace would have been hard to sustain but not only did they sustain it, as soon as we hit the climbs, they went harder.

I think there is some kind of a truce amongst everyone who isn’t at Jumbo-Visma now. It’s like; “you know what, we’re not even going to try, we’re just going to get through this and make the time cut”. I get it though, if you’re so strong and dominant, why not try to go for every stage you can. However, on the other hand, you’d also expect a stage like yesterday’s to be a classic Tour stage where the breakaway would be given 10-15 minutes and a chance to fight it out. Still, as soon the break got two minutes, Jumbo-Visma just went to the front. It was so fast that you couldn’t even stop to pee. If they can carry on like this throughout the last week, then chapeau to them – really. But if they do show any cracks – at any point – I think that the peloton is going to unite and give them a taste of their own medicine…

Anyway, I’m personally just looking ahead to Friday’s stage but first, let’s get through these mountains!

Stage 14 (12/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 14 ©A.S.O

I’m not at my best these days. The other day I suffered from a bad stomach half of the night and again in the morning and I could barely pedal during the stage.

Today, I knew I was on a bad day right from the neutral zone so it was just about survival. When we were approaching the first climb, I was at my limit and sweating while the guys next to me were just chatting and stopping to pee.

It’s hard and super frustrating when I see the results and the guys who were up there at the end. It’s not like 30 guys made it, it’s a group of 100 that’s there. This is a day where I would normally be fighting for the win or a good result and to just be fighting to survive instead it’s more tough mentally than anything else.

Fortunately, my stomach is better now but I’m still super stiff. Hopefully, tomorrow will be easier. The last few days have been really tough and peloton is really tired, so I reckon that it will be a standard Tour de France stage where a group of guys go up the road early on.

Hopefully, the peloton won’t hit the first climb too hard so we can all just get over it and then, even if the start from the second climb, I can get in a group and safely make the time cut. I just take it day by day, or actually, hour by hour at the moment.

Fingers crossed that it will be okay tomorrow so I can get to rest-day and recharge a bit.

Stage 12 (10/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 12 ©A.S.O

Today was always going to be a very aggressive yet unpredictable day. I think we all knew that it would be flat out with attacks from the start, which it was, and I think most people also expected to see quite a big breakaway get away and fight for the win. However, that wasn’t the case.

Eventually, four guys went clear and we had Max [Walscheid] in there, which was great as it took the pressure off of us. BORA-hansgrohe and CCC then controlled things – trying to set up Sagan and Van Avermaet or Trentin for the stage – but when we hit the penultimate categorized climb it just went bananas. From then on, it was up to the real climbers.

Chapeau to Hirschi for pulling it off today. It was another phenomenal performance by him and I’m glad he finally got that win he deserved the other day.

Gogl was there at a point but he just missed out and ended up in the second group. He finished 16th on the day so he’s definitely showing a good pair of legs and it’s also good to see Roman [Kreuziger] improving each day.

Tomorrow is going to be quite a hard day with around 4500 meters of climbing. For me, realistically, it’s just about surviving and getting through this one. I think half the peloton will have the same kind of mindset so it should be alright.

Stage 10 (08/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 10 ©A.S.O

Today was another very stressful day from start to finish. There was not one point where anyone relaxed. In our team, we felt pretty confident that the six guys we have left here would all do well in the crosswind but unfortunately Eddy [Boasson Hagen, edt.] went down in one of the crashes and hurt himself. Hopefully, he’ll be alright for tomorrow’s stage.

I wasn’t really lucky either. After I hit the front with about 16 km to go, I got a flat tire – a slow puncture – but with the all splits the car wasn’t there so I just stayed in the bunch while the air slowly went out. When I crossed the finishing line, we checked the pressure and it was down to just one bar…

Speaking of the sprint, unfortunately, we lost each other on the last two kilometers and with all the work I had done, and with a flat tire, I couldn’t really contest.

Looking ahead, I believe that tomorrow’s stage should be a lot less stressful. I think that everybody would welcome a quiet day so we should expect a bunch sprint. Most likely a small break will get away and then Deceuninck-Quick Step will take control as they must have a lot of confident after today’s win and the fact that Bennett has the green jersey.

Let’s hope we can do something in the sprint tomorrow!

Rest Day 1 (07/09)

With all the corona testing today, this hasn’t really been a normal rest day, it’s been a bit of a stress. The testing wasn’t really nearby so we had to plan our training ride around that as well to make it all fit in. On top of that we had our media obligations to the relevant new agencies in your relevant countries and we’ve also tested some new gears. It’s been relatively busy but definitely a lot less stressful than the last nine days.

Yesterday was really tough. We went flat out for an hour and a half at the beginning. It was really relentless with everybody trying to get away. I even gave it a dig a few times. It wasn’t just that we went hard. We were fighting just to keep up and that was even before we hit the mountains. We still had 3500 meters of climbing to go after that crazy start. When we finally started on the first mountain, it split up immediately and I could sit up and just focus on finishing stage.

Once again, we’re all just absolutely blown away by how fast people can go up the hills these days and how aggressive the racing is. Even on stage 3, I was chatting with somebody who said that the way he feels now now is normally how he feels in the second week of a grand tour – that was on day three! The level is just absolutely incredible. It’s almost absurd how much it has increased. To think that yesterday was really just the second mountain stage… It’s unbelievable to think how hard it has been so far. We have seen a little bit of dominance from one side, but it’s not just Jumbo-Visma who’s going fast. It’s the whole peloton. All those guys at the pointy end are just getting better and faster and stronger.

Speaking off the action on the stage, you have to give it to Hirschi. He did a phenomenal ride but had to walk away a bit emptyhanded. Of course, this is bike racing and it will happen to all of us but of course you’re a bit gutted for the guy. It would have been great for him if could have stayed away.

Hopefully tomorrow’s stage won’t be as hard as yesterday. However, riding alongside the coast, with the wind, it might just be. It changes constantly but at the moment, it seems to be a headwind most of the way – which would be nice! –  but that also means it could turn into a crosswind on the last 20 km. So, the final half an hour will probably be an absolute nightmare but hopefully the first hours won’t be.

Health wise, I thought a rest day would do me good but even climbing on the bike today for an easy hour and a half was hard. Breathing is tough and the first five pedal strokes is really, really painful. It should get better every day, though riding like this may not be the best healing process, and in general I do feel a bit better so I hope that will continue. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

Stage 8 (05/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 8 ©A.S.O

Today’s stage wasn’t actually a super tough one, at least not where I was. At the beginning, it was very very slow. So slow that the sprinters started getting nervous for the time limit because of the strong break up front. Mitchelton-SCOTT was setting the pace but they were only going at 35 km/h.

Then, at the first climb, BORA-hansgrohe came to the front and made it unnecessarily hard for a while before it then came back together again towards the feed zone. Leading into the second climb, Jumbo-Visma took control and made it hard again and that’s when the gruppetto started to form. They made a gap but then it kind of sat there for a while, so I think they actually went too hard at the beginning and then realized that they couldn’t keep that pace all the way. But it still did the damage, it was a real shake down.  

When the gruppetto formed, we were still riding hard, at 90 % or so, but then it settled down and it almost felt like we were going too slow. You know you can go a lot faster but you don’t want to anger anybody so you just stay with the group. At the end, we finished five minutes before the time limit but I never really feared that we would miss it. We knew the last 10 km would be very fast and there are always data scientists in the cars behind calculating how fast we can go on the climbs to make it.

At one point, the guys from Israel-Start Up Nation came to us and asked if we would slow down a bit because Greipel was in the cars trying to come back – and the same with Ewan. Ewan was actually alone for most of the day, he just got back right at the end. Looking ahead to the up-coming bunch sprints, it would of course be good for us if some of the sprinters went home today but there is a lot of mutual respect amongst the riders on a day like this. We all just want to get through it together.

Unfortunately, Giacomo [Nizzolo, edt.] had to leave the race. He proved he was in great shape going into the Tour and he showed to be strong that day he finished third after hitting out early in the headwind. But a few days ago, he caught something and I think it already showed yesterday with him not feeling well at the beginning of the stage. It’s a shame for us, especially going into next week with two or three expected bunch sprints but fortunately, we still have Eddy [Boasson, Hagen] who has already shown that he can be up there and Max [Walschied] is a fast man too, so hopefully we can do something.

Tomorrow, I think it will be more of the same as we saw today. However, because the break stayed away today and got such a huge gap, I think the peloton would be happy to see a smaller break go tomorrow. The really tough climbs are early on the stage and I don’t think the GC teams will be ripping it up there already as the Tour is the long. But let’s see what happens..!

Stage 6 (03/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 6 ©A.S.O

Today, we got Eddy [Boasson Hagen, edt.] in the break – a really strong break – which made for a very high pace all day. In the final, Pozzovivo managed to stay with the front guys quite comfortably, so we are really happy to see how he’s improving.

For tomorrow, I think the start will be quite hard. It should still come back for a sprint but I think some teams will make it quite aggressive at the beginning. It would be a lovely day for De Gendt, but I have full confidence that Lotto-Soudal will be riding for Caleb [Ewan] and I’m sure that with Bennett in green, Deceuninck-Quick Step will assist to that. Let’s see what happens on the first 50 km, but most likely in will end in a sprint.

Stage 5 (02/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 5 ©A.S.O

This was a strange stage. I think yesterday was a lot harder than we realized and the wild card teams weren’t eager to send somebody up the road just to have [Remi] Cavagna hurt them all day. That’s why nothing happened until the last 50 km. Then, we actually rode like as if there was a breakaway up front as we all knew there was going to be some wind and it would get nervous. I think it that was a good decision. If not, we would still be out there now…

Normally, during a stage like this, you try to find somebody to chat with and save as much energy as possible. However, from the radio, we were told to be ready in case something happened with the wind so we couldn’t really switch off completely.

I still had some good chats though. I talked a lot with Daryl [Impey]. We have had our differences but he’s a really good guy, experienced and I have a lot of respect for him. He also understands my position here so I had a good chat with him about everything. I also talked with some guys I’ve never spoken with before; some guys from CCC, getting their perspective on cycling these days and what’s going on in the world. Some teams and riders have already signed contracts but 30 % of the peloton still aren’t sure what the future holds so it’s kind of reassuring to know that we’re not the only ones who don’t know what will happen.

It’s a big topic in the peloton these days. Will this be the last race of the season? Will we make it all the way to Paris? The general consensus is that we should be okay and right now, we’re all confident that we will make it to Paris and that the season will continue. It’s only the Vuelta that people may not be too positive about if it’s going to happen or not but other than that, people are quite confident that the season will go on.

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s stage, I think it will be a bit of a fight to get into the early breakaway. Since [Julian] Alaphilippe lost the yellow jersey, Deceuninck-Quick Step won’t set the pace and I’m not sure if Mitchelton-SCOTT will chase either as they have made it pretty clear that they are not here for the GC but for stage wins. If the right group gets away, I may even try to get in on the action. I believe there is a chance that a break could make it and if it does, I’d rather be up there than not... Let’s see what happens.

Stage 4 (01/09)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 4 ©A.S.O

On paper, today’s stage shouldn’t have been as hard as it was. When we saw an early break go, everyone got quite excited, thinking it was going to be a relaxed day but we actually had quite strong winds and we were stretched out in a long line most of the day.

For me, it was just about staying out of trouble. I’m feeling a bit better than I have been. Obviously, I’m still in a lot of pain and breathing is hard but it’s getting better. Certain movements are excruciating but I can live with that and today, with 20-25 km to go, I found a group and just cruised home.

Tomorrow is another good opportunity. It’s quite a hard finish but I think it could suit us. Giacomo [Nizzolo, edt.] is feeling good and hopefully I can do a bit later job than what I did yesterday. I think it should be good. Fingers crossed.

Stage 3 (31/08)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 3 ©A.S.O

Today was a relatively easy day in the saddle. With my injuries, it’s always worse in the morning but as soon as you get on the bike and get going, everything starts falling into place and you can focus on the job at hand.

At the end, we put Giacomo [Nizzolo, edt.] in a good position for the sprint – well, maybe we left him out in the wind a 100 meters too long – but considering the headwind and the fact that he hit out early, he definitely showed that he’s on good form and if everything goes his way, we will get a big result with him in this race.

For me personally, the fact that I could get through these last two days is already a good sign. Today’s stage could have gone one or two ways, but Deceuninck-Quickstep went to the front quite early and that made for an easy day for us.

Now, I just need a good night sleep and then we’ll face another hard day tomorrow where the GC riders will take over the show. I’m not sure of our strategy yet, but I think our guys will be pretty aggressive tomorrow, while I just hope to be cruising towards the line in the gruppetto.

Stage 2 (30/08)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 2 ©A.S.O

Sorry for the short entry. It was a mad house here with the late stage finish and all the check ups and treatments I had to get. Despite my injuries, I’ll be on the bike again for stage 3, but sadly I have to take a day at a time now. Hopefully we can get Giacomo [Nizzolo, edt.] in a good position for the sprint tomorrow.

Stage 1 (29/08)

Tour de France 2020 Stage 1 ©A.S.O

This was a very disappointing start to the race for me as I crashed just as we took on the final circuit. I knew it was going to be nervous after everything that has happened this year and with everybody eager and willing to take risks. Plus, this being such a treacherous route in the rain with every corner having oil spills, I mean, it was an absolute nightmare out there today.

Before the stage, there had already been a CPA meeting with the riders asking if, in case of rain, we could take it easy on the descent if everything was still together at that point. Not everybody was on board with that idea but after seeing the rain today, I think everybody thought it was for the best. To me, the only positive thing about today was that the riders took initiative and came together and took a unanimous decision.

My own role today was to support where I could but after the crash, my first thought was just to get to the finish. Then I saw Max [Walscheid, edt.] puncture and I managed to come back with him and do a few turns on the front of the peloton with Valgren with about 10-15 km to go.

In the deep deep finale, not that many riders were really motivated to pull so it was actually kind of easy to come to the front. I did one last pull for Giacomo [Nizzolo, edt.] as we took on the last kilometer. However, it got really messy and we lost each other so with 800 meters to go, I thought I’d better just get out of the way.

At the end, Giacomo was a bit boxed in and he ended up not pedaling for the last 50 meters. Obviously, he was frustrated but he also knows that he’s going very well so we are definitely going to try again.

Now, we have to reassess and see how we all feel for stage 2. Pozzovivo also crashed today and Eddy [Boasson Hagen, edt.] too went down in that crash with 3 km to go. So, first we have to lick our wounds and then we come up with a plan in the morning.

One down, 20 to go. See you tomorrow.

[Alexander Kristoff of UAE Team Emirates won stage 1. Ryan Gibbons finished in 40th place with his teammate Giacomo Nizzolo taking seventh in the sprint on this opening day of the Tour de France 2020]

Giacomo Nizzolo (7th) and a banged up Ryan Gibbons after the finishing line. Photo: NTT Pro Cycling, twitter

Tags: diary, preview, ryan gibbons, tour de france Last modified: Sep 20, 2020