Come the back-end of a grand tour, riders pretty much know where they stand in the pecking order. EF Education First’s Hugh Carthy thought he’d found his place in the 2019 Giro when he was dropped on the long climb to Lago Serrù last Friday.
That thought seemed to be confirmed the following day in Courmayeur, when he finished 5:40 behind stage winner and pink jersey Richard Carapaz.
It wasn’t like the young British climber had completely blown. But, on the Giro’s first two big mountain days, he had fallen to over 14 minutes behind the race leader and waved goodbye to the white jersey he’d briefly held.
It was a perfectly reasonable place for an up-and-coming, steadily progressing, 24 year old GC hopeful to be in his fourth grand tour.
“I thought ‘this is maybe just the level I’m at at the moment.'” recalled Carthy, who finished 77th in the 2018 Giro d’Italia.
But over the most recent three stages of the Giro, Carthy has disproved that self-assessment. Among other recurring pattens during these stages (riders from the early breaks winning the stage; Movistar making gains; Roglic slipping), Carthy has shown an ability that’s put him at the very pointiest end of the racing.
Take the stage defining attacks of the top GC riders on these days.
When Mikel Landa attacked on Wednesday to gain time in Anterselva, Carthy was the one rider to go with him.
When Vincenzo Nibali lit a firework on the mid-slopes of the Mortirolo a day earlier, it was the former Caja Rural rider who bridged across.
And although he was already up the road when Nibali and Carapaz slipped away on the run-in to Como last Sunday, the 2014 Tour de Korea winner didn’t just slip to the side and watch them ride past.
“I’m surprised, I thought I’d kind of started to fatigue a bit more,” Carthy told Eurosport on Thursday. “But I’ve known I have the ability to do this kind of thing. And it’s what I want to do in the future.”
It says a lot about Carthy’s ability that each one of these moves has seen their protagonists gain time and do damage to key rivals. While Carthy may have been a relatively inconsequential tag-along, following an attack is no easy thing when the world’s top GC riders are trying to stretch one another to the limit.
That’s not to say Carthy himself has been completely unbreakable in these moments. Landa eventually cracked him with his pace on the steep upper slopes of Wednesday’s finishing climb. Carthy ended up crossing the line with Carapaz and Miguel Angel Lopez.
“It was hard to stay with him for a little bit,” admitted Carthy. “There wasn’t much more I could do.”
This perhaps illustrates where Carthy does have an advantage over some of the GC riders who have been under attack with these moves. Having already ceded considerable time on what he only now realises were bad days, he can more readily flirt at the threshold of over-stretching himself when he goes with the attacks.
Nonetheless, Carthy’s prominence in the last three stages shines light on a rider with a bold outlook and an apparently very bright future.
“When you’re feeling good and you’re confident, it’s best to ride with an ambitious head,” he said.