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Sometimes payback in the WorldTour comes at the most unexpected of times. After years of being near the cusp of a big win at the sport’s highest tier, the lanky Brit Hugh Carthy (EF-Education First) notched his first WorldTour victory in the climb-heavy final stage of the Tour de Suisse.
Carthy went to the Tour de Suisse last week to wind down the first part of his season. After an intense spring, Carthy didn’t have any great expectations from the race, nor was he there to race for the GC. What he wanted was to put his post-Giro form to good use one last time before taking a mid-season break.
Even though he fell short of a stage win at the Giro, Carthy had been quietly content with a solid performance in the Italian grand tour, banging elbows with the best climbers throughout to finish 11th overall.
At first, the decision to race the Tour de Suisse seemed a mistake as he struggled to keep pace in the frenetic opening stages. So often in professional cycling, however, the cream always rises to the top. And in Sunday’s short but climb-riddled final stage, everything came together for the 24-year-old. He powered away from the main protagonists and soloed home for his first WorldTour win.
It was a victory that was as unexpected as it was overdue for the climbing prodigy.
“You just have to believe you can do it,” Carthy said. “Two days ago I was terrible. My head, legs, and body were tired, and I just wanted to go on holiday and finish the first part of the season.”
Good thing Carthy didn’t throw in the towel. Sunday’s 100km final stage was an ideal scenario for a successful breakaway. The stage was essentially straight up from the outset, and could be broken down to a time trial effort up and down three major climbs.
He jumped on the opening climb up the Nufenenpass, and held clear over Gotthardpass, both higher than 2,000 meters. Counter-attacks fizzled on the day’s final climb up the Furkapass, allowing Carthy to hold a gap all the way to the line.
At 24, it’s an important milestone for Carthy, who won the GC at the Vuelta a Asturias in 2016 during his stint with Caja Rural. EF Education manager Jonathan Vaughters, who signed Carthy in 2017, was especially pleased for the British rider whom many call the UK’s purest climber.
“We always knew Hugh had the talent to do this,” Vaughters said. “With a lot of taller, lankier riders, it takes a bit longer to develop the power to handle the speeds at the WorldTour.”
Carthy clearly stepped up a level this season. The 6-foot-4 Brit was pushing the action throughout the Giro with a series of attacks and spent a day in the young riders’ white jersey. After shining over the Mortirolo, riding toe-to-toe with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) in a brutal stage, Carthy rode to Verona to secure 11th overall, his best GC result in four grand tour starts.
The Tour de Suisse victory caps his steady upward progression, especially for a British rider who has not come through the familiar route via the British Cycling track program and Team Sky/Ineos. Carthy started racing as a teenager with Rapha-Condor before jumping to a two-year stint with the Professional Continental Caja Rural team in 2015 and 2016. Realizing no one spoke English on the team, Carthy quickly picked up Spanish and speaks fluently with the distinctive Castellano accent.
Once at EF Education First, Carthy has continued to progress. Some believe he shows hints of the talent that could see him develop into a grand tour contender at races like the Giro and Vuelta a España.
More likely, Carthy will continue to develop climbing prowess, and pick up more stage wins and climbing jerseys. He pulled off both Sunday, winning the stage and claiming the King of the Mountains jersey.
“Today I had one last chance,” Carthy said. “And I wanted to finish on a high before the holidays.”
There’s a feeling the victory won’t be his last. After a string of promising results at the WorldTour level, Carthy found the winning legs just in time to pack his bags for vacation.