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Ben Dyball had given up on the WorldTour. For years he’d slogged away in the minor leagues, achieving the occasional promising result, but never doing enough to catch the eye of a top-tier outfit. Poor health and bad luck didn’t help. A stagiaire ride with French Pro Continental team Delko Marseille Provence KTM in late 2017 looked like a stepping stone, but eventually led nowhere.
But then, in 2018 and early 2019, the New South Welshman found the best form of his career. He finished on the podium at the Tour de Langkawi in 2018 then returned a year later to win the queen stage and the overall. A string of additional wins in Asia only confirmed his considerable talent.
Fast forward to September 2019 and the Dimension Data WorldTour has now announced that Dyball, at 30 years old, will race with the squad in 2020 (when it will be known as Team NTT). CyclingTips caught up with Dyball to find out what securing a WorldTour contract means after all these years, and what he hopes to make of the opportunity. The following transcript has been lightly edited for fluency and brevity.
They join our team thanks to a game-changing approach to recruitment, developed together with our partners at @GlobalNTT.
— Team Dimension Data (@TeamDiData) September 18, 2019
CyclingTips: Congratulations on signing with NTT. What’s the emotion?
Dyball: It’s still a little bit hard to believe that I’ve actually signed a contract with a WorldTour team. I’ve known about it for a while now but I guess it sort of started to sink in a bit more when the team officially put out a press release.
You’ve obviously been working towards this for a long time. Is there a sense of relief at having achieved that goal?
I honestly sort of gave up … I didn’t think I’d be able to ever make it to this level. After I missed getting a contact with Delko I sort of figured that was my last chance. So I almost couldn’t believe it when they [NTT] offered me a contract. So yeah, it’s an amazing feeling to finally have made it.
How did this contract come about? Did the team get in touch with you or did you reach out to them?
They have an Australian coach, Daniel Green. He contacted me whilst I was in China for [the Tour of] Qinghai Lake and asked me if I was interested in riding with their team for next year. And then they negotiated with my agent.
What was it about you that they were interested in? Was it your win in Langkawi that got their attention, do you think?
Yeah I think so. They normally do that race but they didn’t do it this year because I think the dates were changed at the last minute. They know that that’s not an easy race to win and they want to try and do a few more Asian races and I have quite a bit of experience there. So that’s the main reason they were interested in me.
Dyball on his way to winning the queen stage and overall at the 2019 Tour de Langkawi.
When was the contract all finalised?
It was probably the last week of August they sent me the contract and then I’d signed it all and it was official. I’ve known for [about] three weeks.
You must be really happy with how this year’s gone for you. Two Oceania titles, Langkawi, a stage at Qinghai Lake, a stage in Indonesia …
Yeah. Well, last year I was quite consistent through the year and I was close to winning a lot of races but had a lot of seconds and thirds which was good but I wanted to try and win at least one big race this year. And so after I finished third at Langkawi last year I started basically just aiming specifically for Langkawi this year and then I managed to get some results before it and then after that as well with Qinghai Lake.
It seems like last year and this year you’re really taken a step up. What do you think has changed in the last two years, and particularly from last year to this year to allow you to improve?
I think after I had the stagiaire with Delco … I’d had a lot of pressure on myself to try and make it to the top level and then I guess when I came to terms with [the fact] that it wasn’t going to happen, I was just racing more for fun, to see how good I could actually be with no pressure.
And then I managed to start getting results and that just gave me more and more confidence. And yeah I think most of it was just not having any pressure from myself and just believing that I could actually get results in those races.
Do you feel like you put more pressure on yourself after that podium at Langkawi last year, to try to win this year?
Yeah definitely. After I had a break last year there was a bit more pressure for Langkawi because that was sort of the main reason that my team for this year [ed. Malaysian Continental squad, Team Sapura Cycling] had signed me. That’s their biggest race and they obviously thought I could win. So yeah there was a bit of pressure there but I think most of it was from myself, so I can deal with that fairly well
So what allowed you to deal with the pressure a bit better this time around, given you’ve struggled with that pressure in the past?
I’m not actually sure. I guess I’ve just gotten a bit more used to performing under pressure over all these years. But I think a lot of it was [the fact that], if I didn’t win, it’s not the end of the world. I’m happy just racing in Asia so if I don’t move up a step then it’s not a big deal.
I think that’s a big part of it — just not worrying about what I’m going to do next year because I’m sort of just doing it mostly for fun, just racing for as long as I could really.
I guess the plan will be to move to Europe next year?
Yeah I think I’ll do a few Australian races, like the national championships and [Tour] Down Under, then I think some races in the Middle East and then after that I’ll probably go to Europe. But I haven’t finalised that yet.
Have you got any thoughts about where you’d like to base yourself?
I think the team will have quite a few riders in Girona and Andorra so they have a bit of team support there. I think that’s probably the most likely place. There’s obviously a lot of professionals there already so there’s a lot of people to ride with. It just seems like it’s a good place for riding.
Is that exciting — moving to Europe to set up a base there? Or do you feel nervous about it?
Definitely exciting. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Spain so it’ll be a good experience. I have lived in France and Italy before … but I think it’s mostly exciting just to be able to focus on some different races that I’ve never done before.
Do you have an idea of the sort of races that the team will be expecting you to do next year?
Yeah, some of the lower-level WorldTour races. They were talking about Tour of Romandie and maybe Tour of California. They have to see how that fits into their calendar. But it sounds like I’ll definitely get some good opportunities to race at the top level.
Do they have a particular role in mind for you? Will you ride mainly as a climbing domestique?
From what they’ve told me, yeah, a support role and I might get my own chances in some of the lower-level races. They haven’t gone into great detail but that’s what I think I’m good at — GC support role and probably I’d like to have a go at some individual time trials. But I guess we’ll see how that goes.
Given that getting to the WorldTour has been a goal for such a long time, what do you want from yourself now that you’ve achieved that?
I’ll take it as it comes but I’ve always felt like I could be competitive at that level. So I just want to get the best out of myself and at least know whether I can or can’t compete at that level. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. So [I’ll] just try my best to be in good form when it counts.
It’s fair to say that, in recent years, you’ve mainly raced for your own GC opportunities, right?
Yeah. The last two years I’ve been the team leader and could pick and choose what races I wanted to do. Generally most races I went into I was riding for GC.
How do you think you will go transitioning back to riding for other people?
I have no problem with that. If they’re better than me then it makes sense. But it’s actually … it will be exciting to have a slightly different role in some races. It’ll be cool.
Is it a one-year contract?
I’m guessing you’ll head to a team camp at some point before the end of the year?
Yeah. From what they’ve said I think there’ll be a team camp in Spain in December for 10 days.
You mentioned to me earlier that you’re racing in Indonesia soon. What else have you got planned before the end of the year? Any more racing?
Yeah after Indonesia [ed. The UCI2.2 International Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen, which Dyball won last year] it will be Japan Cup and Tour of Hainan. And that’ll be my last race for the year.
Is there anything else you’d like to achieve before this year’s out?
I would like to win one more race before the end of the year. But you know, it’s not always as easy as saying it, but I’ll definitely try. I think I can have the form to do something in Japan Cup. It’s a race I’ve always wanted to do whenever I’ve been able to. So I’m probably aiming for that.
And just finally, what are you expecting from this step up to the WorldTour, not just in terms of the racing but also the lifestyle and the professionalism?
I obviously know that the level’s significantly higher than the Asia Tour but, saying that, the Asia Tour also has hard races with Langkawi and Qinghai Lake. But I think the level of professionalism is more than just one step up. So it will be exciting to have that level of support.
It sounds like you are generally pretty excited about the whole thing …
Yes. Like I said, I’d basically given up on this so to be given this opportunity … I’m going to give it my best shot and not let it go to waste.