The gangly 26-year-old wrestled his bike through the final 1,200 meters of the ultra-steep Angliru climb on stage 12 of the Vuelta to power away from Enric Mas and Aleksandr Vlasov, netting a victory that will sit squarely at the top of his palmarès. The Brit now sits third overall, 32 seconds back on Richard Carapaz and just three seconds ahead of fourth-place Dan Martin.
The torturous grades of the Angliru played into Carthy’s hands Sunday as he made short work of the infamous climb to grind and grimace away from his GC rivals. As an aggressive climber, he wished there were more of the notorious walls that typically pepper the Vuelta to come.
“I’d like 18 stages like that, but what can I do? It’s a grand tour, it’s not all about climbing. It’s about being the best over three weeks over all kinds of terrain,” Carthy told ITV Cycling after powering to in impressive win on the final stretch of one of Europe’s toughest climbs.
“I did the [8.8km, 13 percent grade] Zoncolan a few years ago, and everyone said ‘That’s the hardest climb you’ll ever ride,’ and I did it and I thought it was OK. I did the [12.4km, 10.5 percent grade] Mortirolo last year and everyone said again, ‘that’s the hardest climb you’ll ever ride.’ I had good legs, and it felt like a motorway bridge.
“Today, Angliru, it was just a 6k climb, it didn’t feel too bad. Maybe if I did it in training, maybe it would feel really bad, I don’t know,” Carthy said matter-of-factly when asked about if the Asturian ascent was the toughest he’d faced to date.
While there is only one mountaintop finish remaining at this Vuelta, Saturday’s penultimate stage to Alto de la Covatilla, Carthy isn’t going to check his ambition, deadpanning, “Yep, I think so,” when asked by reporters if he was aiming for the podium in Madrid on Sunday.
Carthy is solid but not spectacular against the clock, and the 34km time trial Tuesday won’t do him any favors in his bid to overhaul a 22-second deficit to second-place Primož Rogič. The Brit’s defense of a slim lead over Martin will prove similarly tricky, with little between the pair in an individual test.
However, for Carthy, there’s more to the race than the Mirador de Ézaro time trial and Saturday’s summit finish as the peloton braces for a tricky final week littered with long, lumpy transitional stages.
“There’s seven [obstacles remaining]; the time trial, six other stages, crashes, splits, anything can happen,” Carthy said atop the Angliru on Sunday. “Today was probably the biggest difference you’re going to see, but strange things can happen over three weeks, so who knows.”
Carthy’s tenacity to scoop the stage after strong support work from Michael Woods and Julius van den Berg sees EF Pro Cycling heading into the final week with the wind at its sails, and as Carthy said himself, “there’s everything to play for.”
“If I had one word for Hugh’s victory today it would be ‘grit,’” EF Pro Cycling boss Jonathan Vaughters said on Sunday. “Now he’s back on the podium and we’ve got everything to ride for. I’m excited for this final week, to say the least.”
While Carthy carved out a career-topping victory on the Angliru on Sunday, Carthy didn’t sound as excited as his manager when asked how he would be celebrating his vault up to third place overall.
“I think we’ve got seven hours in bus coming up so…,” he said.