Our ‘mini pro’ Dibben was always destined for rainbow stripes

Mike Williams on his way to second place in the veteran 50 race last month. Picture: Neil Marshall (171322-123)

Wheelers prepare for Wessex war

  • World champion showed star quality in Mountbatten Centre training
  • Glittering youth and junior career for i-Team.cc underlined class
  • Watson now working on next generation of world champions
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He was dubbed the ‘mini pro’ when he was learning to race his bike at the Mountbatten Centre velodrome.

Now Jon Dibben has taken the early promise he showed in those Portsmouth School of Cycle Racing (PSoCR) sessions and converted it into a world title.

His two wins in the Assen International Youth Tour really caught the eye.... they still talk about the ‘Wunderkid’ in the Netherlands

The 22-year-old clinched his rainbow stripes with a breathtaking ride in the points race at the World Track Championship in London.

It was the realisation of a dream which had started while rubbing shoulders with a raft of talented cyclists, which included fellow world champion Dani King, at the Portsmouth venue.

A stunning palmares at youth and junior level then caught the eye of Team GB, with Dibben selected for the Olympic academy squad in 2012 and later the podium endurance programme.

He went on to claim two European titles in the team pursuit, omnium silver and bronze, along with World Cup medals.

But his finest hour arrived this month at the Lee Valley VeloPark when he sent the home crowd into raptures with a scintillating finale in the points race.

Dibben won the final two sprints to beat Austria’s Andreas Graf to the gold on countback.

While the manner of the victory was something of a surprise, his former mentor, Guy Watson, never had any doubt he would wear the rainbow jersey.

The PSoCR coach and i-Team.cc founder said: ‘Jon was part of a golden generation of gifted under-16s who trained at the Mountbatten Centre with Portsmouth School of Cycle Racing on Friday nights and raced for i-Team at weekends from around 2003 to 2006.

‘He was there with his older brother Pete, along with Kate Calvert, Dani King, Richard Heathcote, Dave Sinclair, Sam Redding, Sam Patrick, Tom Butt and Ryan Howlett.

‘They all showed talent but took a few seasons to learn to be bike riders and start winning.

‘That was apart from Jon, who was a couple of years younger than the rest.

‘Looking back, I think the combination of his talent and competiveness, coupled with riding alongside his older brother and team-mates, had a positive impact on his early development.

‘If we do anything as a club to help our young riders develop, it’s simply to provide them with opportunities.

‘Opportunities to ride every week with other faster youth, junior and senior riders.

‘In my opinion, for a youth rider, just training regularly with people who are just a bit faster, will have a far bigger impact on success than what bike or wheels they ride and what coach they have.

‘After his first season, Jon totally dominated youth racing in the south region.

‘And in another couple of years he went on to be one of the best youth riders in Europe.’

Dibben started winning in i-Team colours almost immediately.

He took the East Riding of Yorkshire Youth Tour in 2003 before becoming the national cyclocross champion the following year.

He also took the south division youth road circuit crown and Youth Tour of Lichfield title in 2004.

Dibben successfully defended his national cyclocross jersey the following season, adding the British Youth Circuit Championship trophy to his collection.

In 2006, he began turning heads on the world stage – with four stage wins on his way to the International Youth Tour of Assen title.

National titles followed in circuit racing and in the omnium on the track before a successful defence of his Assen crown.

Watson said: ‘His two wins in the Assen International Youth Tour, which is like a mini Tour de France for youths and juniors, really caught the eye.

‘In fact, they still talk about the “Wunderkid” in the Netherlands!

‘Those Assen wins prove he was one of the best youth riders in the world at the time.

‘I wonder who has come close to matching such an impressive tally of victories?’

Alongside his second Assen triumph, Dibben won a support race at the 2007 Tour of Britain and the prologue of the Isle of Man Youth & Junior Tour in Douglas.

Another victory on the Tour of Britain undercard came 12 months later, with success in the national circuit race championship and stage wins coupled with overall titles in the Isle of Man Youth Tour and North West Youth 3-Day.

But it wasn’t just on the bike where he impressed Watson.

The i-Team.cc founder said: ‘Jon was not only one of the best youths to wear an i-Team jersey, he was a fantastic young person, too.

‘In all his time with us, I always found him a friendly, polite, quietly confident young man, who was never big-headed, or acted like he was something special – even though he clearly was.

‘He was always well turned out when he turned up on club rides with his dad, Jerry.

‘His bike was clean and well maintained – but he didn’t seem obsessed with bling and the latest most expensive equipment.

‘His bike was a tool for winning races – not something to pose on.

‘Mind you, he did look really cool on a bike from a young age, though. I called him our “mini pro”!

‘Now I can’t wait to see who will be the next rider standing on the left of a world champion in a picture like the one of him and Rob Hayles.’

Watson’s search for the next world champion to emerge from the area, following in the wheels of Rob Hayles, King and Dibben, is well under way.

Joe Truman is currently part of Team GB’s senior academy set-up and is working towards a place in the track squad for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Watson has launched an exciting seven-strong junior race team for the current campaign.