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Q&A: Robin Carpenter on coming oh so close to a European win

Breakaway specialist Robin Carpenter has come oh so close to winning a big event in Europe. Carpenter heads back this year with Rally Cycling to try and capture that elusive first European victory. We caught up with Carpenter to talk about the team's ambitions in 2020.

American breakaway specialist Robin Carpenter has come oh so close to winning his first European race over the past several years. In 2018 his closest call came at stage 5 of the Arctic Race of Norway; last season Carpenter scored two second-place finishes at hard one-day races in France after riding for much of the day in breakaways. Carpenter is headed back to Europe in 2020 with Rally Cycling, and the team is likely to give him more opportunities to race to win. VeloNews recently caught up with Carpenter to talk about his close calls, as well as his big ambitions in 2020.

VeloNews: Rally has added more European events to its calendar. What do you think the team can achieve this season after racing three seasons in Europe?

Robin Carpenter: I think Rob [Britton] managed top 10 at the Tour de Suisse last year, which is pretty impressive. But I think this year, we’re focusing more on the new ProSeries, and more of your bread-and-butter events that you can get into without having to rely on discretionary invites as much. But hopefully we’ll still have some more of those big events to aim for as big goals. For me personally, I got really close to a couple good wins in France last year at one day races, out of a couple breakaways, which was really exciting.

VN: Is there anything you would have done differently in these races?

Robin Carpenter: Normally I have a really good, poppy sprint from the breakaway. In two out of three of those races, I was racing against someone who raced on the track consistently and I didn’t know that, so relying on [my sprint] was foolish. I would have taken them longer and harder in the final kilometers to try and get rid of them or tire them out. And the last one, in Paris-Chauny, I was racing with one guy from Direct Energy and one from H2R, and I chose the inside line. It’s a risky line and he saw me coming and—you don’t have to move much to make someone think twice about coming up the inside, so I had to check up a bit. I was mostly happy just to be in those situations and be able to be fighting for victory in those races, because it’s a big step up from what we were racing in America. And it’s very exciting to be at the pointy end of a race there. The team’s a little more segregated this year. We have a stage race squad and more of a one-day squad. I’ll be doing more of the one-days, and we’ve got a good group for that. I’m confidently we can pull something off.

Colin Joyce
Robin Carpenter (left) congratulated teammate Colin Joyce on his win at stage 2 of the Arctic Race of Norway. Photo courtesy Arctic Race of Norway

VN: How does the team’s dynamic and stage racing goals change with Brandon McNulty leaving to go to UAE? Does that change what the squad is able to do in Europe?

RC: I think it will actually be good for the team. As much as I loved Brandon, I think the team leaned on him a little too hard last year. He’s the phenom and has the weight of expectation a lot of the time. And that can be tough when, for an entire season, management wants you to be the guy. It’s a lot of pressure to be good all the time. I think if leadership duties get a little more diversified, it can lead to a little more personal growth for individual riders and guys aren’t always relegated to be a helper. It’s important for people to learn how to be in that position. Obviously, it’s really different than someone who’s just getting bottles and jackets, but it’s even really different than someone who’s the last guy, who’s helping the lead out. Every time there’s a finish line, you have to know that you’re putting everything you have into that. You’re being evaluated on your best potential on that day, every single time, if you’re trying as hard as you can. It’s a different kind of pressure to be evaluated in such an honest way. It’s really easy, even as a lead out guy to say, “I got him as far as I could today,” and maybe you did a perfect job, and maybe you did a not-so-perfect job, but it’s easier to write that off and it’s also harder [for others] to tell if you didn’t do your job perfectly.

It’s a privilege to be a leader, but it requires a lot of mental fortitude. And I think if we’re able to distribute that a little more throughout the team Gavin [Mannion] and Rob [Britton] are exceptional climbers who I think could do really well if given the opportunity and inspiration to be at the front of the race. In the end, bike riders are salaried workers, you’re going to get paid at the end of the month whether you win the race or not. It kind of can lead to a little bit of complacency with how you do your job as someone who is helping the leader. I think it’s super helpful for everyone to get a taste of that [leadership] sometimes and understand what it takes to be good at that level.

VN: Who all do you see the team riding for throughout 2020?

RC: We often ride for Colin [Joyce] as well. He’s more of sprint role, especially for stages that are a little bit harder than a pure sprint. He’s a better guy for a sprint at the selection. He can make it over the next climb. Two years ago at team camp, Pat [McCarty], one of our directors, drove next to us and said there was $200 to the guy who makes it to the top of the next climb. And out of a team full of climbers, the guy who won it was Colin. When he’s motivated, he’s really good. So, we often ride for Colin and he deserves it.

Honestly, I can see Ty [Magner] getting there this year in certain one day events. Yeah, Gavin. Rob—he’s been there before; he doesn’t need any lessons on how this works.
We’v got a couple young new guys in Stephen Bassett and Nick Zukowsky. Bassett showed a whole lot of potential at nationals last year. Everyone saw him racing Howes for the win. Zukowsky’s 20 years old, super young. he did really well last year at the Tour de Beauce, which is a notoriously difficult race in Canada. I think he won a KOM at GP Montreal, which is one of the hardest races I’ve done. We did a mountain bike camp in Sedona this year, and he has some serious skills. So, he knows how to ride a bike and he’s pretty strong, so I think we could see some surprising stuff from him this year.