Hugh Carthy has a golden opportunity in front of him, but he must get the support that his results so far in La Vuelta deserve if he is to capitalise upon it.
Comparisons to Tao Geoghegan Hart seem inevitable over the next two weeks, with Carthy having a very real shot of replicating his countryman’s achievement of winning the Giro d’Italia by taking the overall title at La Vuelta.
Both found themselves at the head of a Grand Tour team after the intended leader was ruled out by injury in a first week crash, and the Londoner is just one year the junior of Carthy, so they are both still young. Beyond that the comparisons should rightly end.
The EF Pro Cycling rider has had an unconventional route to the point he is now, starting off at Rapha Condor, a London-based UCI Continental team, before making the unexpected leap to Spanish ProContinental outfit, Caja Rural.
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Carthy rarely appeared on the TV screens of British fans during his two years at Caja, only popping up once a year at La Vuelta when the team was wildcarded onto the start list, and in the sporadically covered Spanish stage races. Even then, he caught the eye, throwing himself into breakaways whenever the stage profile got lumpy.
His top ten at Volta a Catalunya was enough to secure him a contract at WorldTour Cannondale Drapac for the 2017 season, only for the team to come within a hair’s breadth of imploding financially due to lack of sponsorship in the middle of his first year with them. The team was famously saved by a crowdfunding campaign.
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From that point till now, the EF Pro Cycling franchise has grown in ambition and achievement – as has Carthy’s stature within it.
His has been a career of steady improvement, of measurable success and carefully plotted achievements. In 2016 he finished a Grand Tour at the first time of asking. In 2017 he added the Giro d’Italia to the Vuelta from the year before. 2018 saw him swipe a host of top ten positions in young rider classifications at WorldTour stage races, while helping Mike Woods to a Giro d’Italia top 20.
And then, in what seemed like an inevitability, in 2019 Carthy threw his hands in the air for the first time in a WorldTour race when he won stage nine of the Tour de Suisse.
This next step, to try and win a Grand Tour, is more of a leap than the others, and he will need plenty of support if he is to follow it through to the end.
If EF Pro Cycling have a weakness as a GC team it’s that they often have their eyes on too many prizes at once. It’s well publicised that they do not have the financial might of Jumbo-Visma, Ineos or UAE Team Emirates, and so their squads at three-week races tend more toward loose affiliations of opportunists than serious Grand Tour-winning machines.
We saw a glimpse of this on Stage 6 of La Vuelta when, despite Carthy being back down the road and in with a shot of taking red, Michael Woods pressed on to try and bag the stage victory, managing second place in the process.
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No one could fault Woods for trying to get that stage win, but if that were an Ineos or Jumbo rider, he would never have been allowed in the break in the first place, and would have had his sports directors screaming in his ear to go back and help Carthy as he honed in on the summit of the Aramon Formigal.
If Carthy is to challenge Richard Carapaz, the leader of the race at its first rest day, he will need plenty of backup. EF Pro Cycling has firepower to lend him, but it will mean no more fruitless days of chasing breakaway glory for the likes of Woods, or Magnus Cort Neilsen.
In Mitch Docker, the team has one of the most experienced road captains in the peloton, not to mention one of its most selfless domestiques. Docker should prove invaluable in the coming days.
It’s not clear yet what kind of condition Tejay van Garderen is in, but he could well prove to be the difference between success and failure if he can recover the kind of legs that saw him rise to prominence early in his career. At the moment he is more than an hour down on GC, which points to either bad legs, or big designs on some stage wins later down the line.
Logan Owen and Julius van den Berg complete the seven-man squad for EF and they too must pitch in as much as they are able to if Carthy is to triumph.
The ability is there for EF, the question is how they will marshal it. Carthy deserves their unquestioning support after starting the race so brightly. Maybe he can even ‘do a Tao’.