Dyball went in to the race as the highest-ranked rider in Asia and demonstrated why as delivered on his status as favourite to take a convincing win on the infamous Genting highlands climb. The result confirmed the faith put in him by the Malaysian home team, who signed Dyball in the off-season with Le Tour de Langkawi as the climber’s main goal.
"After last year, it was always in the back of my mind to aim for this tour," said Dyball, talking to interviewer Aaron Lee for Eurosport. "Even the races in the second half of last year were about building up for this, it's a very big relief to win the tour. I still can't believe it.'
Dyball went into the race in some red-hot form, having taken out the double at the Oceania championships in the road race and time trial. He then finished third in the Tour de Tochigi, a race that didn’t suit climbers like the New South Welshman.
It was far from a one-man show for the Australians at the race. Marcus Culey of Team Sapura not only shared in the victory of teammate Dyball, but took off in the breakaway on the first stage of the race and was able to hold off an on-rushing peloton in the final kilometres to take a solo victory. Sydneysider Culey and Novocastrian Jesse Ewart then formed key parts of Dyball’s support squad for the rest of the race.
"It's not been your typical Langkawi," said Ewart, "normally it's a pretty straightforward race. Big names are here, big teams are here, normally they just ride the front, there's one day in the mountains, the rest are easy sprint finishes. But this has been on for young and old!
"Attacks non-stop, it's been a hard race to control. We've had the jersey eight out of nine days, so the legs are feeling it, the body's feeling it."
It was also a landmark race for another bunch of Australians, as Oliver’s Real Food Racing team stepped up to UCI .HC status for the first time and showed they weren’t just there to make up the numbers, taking out the mountains jersey with Angus Lyons. It was Lyons’ second King of the Mountains win in consecutive tours after he also claimed the classification at the Tour de Tochigi.
High places in sprint finishes for youngsters like St George Continental pair Craig Wiggins and Blake Quick, while Australian road race champion Michael Freiberg (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) was also in the mix on a number of stages. Sam Crome (Team UKYO) and Freddy Ovett (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) finished seventh and ninth on the general classification to cement an impressive showing by Australians in the race.
It was a well-attended race by Australian squads, with 21 Australian riders lining up at the startline, meaning the race had more Australians present than any other outside of Australia or New Zealand for 2019.
Cavanagh’s impressive solo feat sees him win queen stage and Tour of Thailand by five minutes
Going in the UCI-ranked 2.1 race the Tour of Thailand, Ryan Cavanagh (St George Continental) would have been considered an outsider for any sort of GC result. Even in Cavanagh’s own mind, he had much less ambitious set of objectives heading into the race.
“I won a 2.2 stage of Singkarak last year and that was pretty good as my first UCI win. This is a 2.1 and I came into the race thinking that a stage win would be the ultimate goal, not knowing if that was possible or not. To be able to pull it off on the hardest day and have the team ride and protect me after that was deeply satisfying.”
Every race that ends in a lone leader winning by a ridiculous margin has a story behind it, and the 23-year-old’s dominant queen stage victory was no different, as he held off teams of high pedigree and even higher budgets.
“Absolutely not,” said Cavanagh when asked if he ever thought he win the queen stage in such decisive fashion. “That stage was always going to be the deciding factor in the race. It was pretty daunting being off the front from pretty early on, we knew there was going to be 3800-4000 metres of climbing in the race. I thought I’d just be trying to finish that day.”
“It was pretty much on the pedals from the get go and then there was definitely confusion from behind. The main guys knew there was a break, but they don’t have radios because none of them speak the same language.
“They just left it way too late and didn’t ride the climb hard enough, I was able to put time into them on the climb. The terrain for the day was either up or down hill all day, so I could go aero downhill and on the uphill the draft isn’t worth so much. If it had been flat there was no way one guy could hold them off. Then the chase group crashed, well pretty much all of them crashed on a wet corner, so that helped me out a bit, but it was a long, long day.”
An eventual time gap at the finish of four minutes and 54 seconds to Marcos Garcia of Kinan didn’t tell the entire story of what had been a precarious position at times for Cavanagh as he traversed the long, steep climbs through the Doi Phu Kha national park.
“On the climb, a Colombian attacked from the peloton and got to within 40 seconds of me, but then on the descent and in between climbs it went back out to a minute and twenty seconds. Then on the next KOM of the day he completely imploded from going that hard up the climb, which was about an hour and a half from the bottom from the top. Having that time gap allowed me to keep a good pace but not go into the red.
“But it was surreal having four minutes, I kept on thinking just get over the climb, get the KOM points and I’ll be in the tour for the rest of the race.”
St George Continental had previously featured Dyball on the team but he and Culey’s switch to the Malaysian-based Team Sapura has meant that other riders have had to step and go from Dyball’s domestiques to winners in their own right.
“It’s good in some ways as it does force you to step up and be on the hunt,” said Cavanagh of Dyball’s departure. “I definitely didn’t expect myself to win races overall like this, I see myself more as trying to win stages in this sort of race.”
Cavanagh and his St George Continental teammates are currently racing at the 2.2 Tour of Johor in Malaysia.
Many thanks to cycling journalist Aaron Lee for access to the interviews from the Tour de Langkawi.