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Vuelta a Espana

EF Education-Nippo pivoting to stage-hunting mode at Vuelta a España following Hugh Carthy’s surprise exit

Riders look to take something out of the second half of the Vuelta a España following Friday's exit of GC leader.

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SANTA POLA, Spain (VN) — Hugh Carthy‘s surprise exit from the Vuelta a España means EF Education-Nippo is changing tactics midway through the race.

Team officials said Carthy left the Spanish grand tour Friday not for physical problems, but for what they described as a “different situation,” hinting at a possible issue with a frustrating opening week in the GC.

“I think he was in great condition He won the last stage at the Vuelta a Burgos, but it’s not only about the legs,” said sport director Juanma Garate at Saturday’s start. “It’s also about mentality and attitude, and when you see the team is fighting, and for different reasons, you cannot keep up, it costs you a lot of mental energy. Then you lose the morale.

“It was not about condition, but it was about a different situation.”

Also read: Hugh Carthy, Alejandro Valverde abandon Vuelta

Carthy, 27, won a stage and finished third overall in a breakout ride in the 2020 Vuelta, and came to start in Burgos last week confident to go even better. EF Education-Nippo brought a strong team of support riders, and Carthy was seeing a clear shot at outright leadership.

“I think the stress in the first week cost him a lot of energy,” Garate told reporters at the start. “In the last couple of days he was feeling empty and tired. He couldn’t keep the concentration, and in these conditions, it’s better to not stay here.”

Despite winning the final stage at the Vuelta a Burgos just a week before the Vuelta started, Carthy seemed to struggle to stay with the best in the opening week marked by wind and heat.

Yet on stage 4, he told reporters he was “not going to panic,” but by Thursday, he dipped from 19th to 33rd on GC when he lost nearly three minutes to Primož Roglič.

Midway through Friday’s stage 7, which opened with a string of searing climbs, the tall British climber surprisingly stepped off the bike. There was no immediate word from Carthy on his social media channels.

“There is so much pressure on our shoulders, and at the end of the day, we are still human. For a guy like Hugh, he is very passionate and emotional about the sport, and I think it wore him down,” said teammate Lawson Craddock at Saturday’s start. “He will be stronger coming out of this. This is the first time coming in as defending the podium from the previous year, and it was a difficult race for him.”

Team turns to stage-hunting mode

BALCON DE ALICANTE, SPAIN - AUGUST 20: Lawson Craddock of United States and Team EF Education - Nippo competes in the breakaway during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021, Stage 7 a 152km stage from Gandía to Balcón de Alicante 995m / @lavuelta / #LaVuelta21 / on August 20, 2021 in Balcón de Alicante, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Lawson Craddock rode into the winning breakaway Friday the same day Hugh Carthy abandoned. Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Instead of racing for the GC with Carthy, the team will now pivot to full-on stage-hunting mode.

In fact, it already did that Friday when it crackled over the race radio that Carthy was out of the race.

Craddock was up the road in part to be there if Carthy would come across. In what’s a reflection of the team’s new script for this Vuelta, Craddock quickly went on the attack to “anticipate the race.”

“It’s a bummer to lose Hugh, and we already miss him around the dinner table and on the bus,” Craddock said at Saturday’s start line. “What he’s able to do on the bike is pretty special. We’ll miss him, but we’ve been able to turn the page and focus on what’s to come.”

The team already won a stage in this Vuelta with Magnus Cort on stage 6, and Carthy’s exit means that the remainder of the team will have carte blanche to go on the attack.

“I just love racing my bike, and maybe without Hugh and not having a true GC leader, we will have a few  more opportunities in the next few days,” Craddock said. “Just to win, I got to be better, pedal harder, and be a bit faster.”

Sunday’s multi-climb stage ending atop the Vuelta’s first “especial” climb at Alto de Velefique means that Craddock and Co. will have the first of many chances to ride in the breakaways.