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Overlooked Aussie Jay McCarthy quietly contending for Turkey GC

Tinkoff-Saxo all-rounder Jay McCarthy steps out of the shadows and seizes opportunities at Presidential Tour of Turkey

MARMARIS, Turkey (VN) — Few countries do more with less than the island nation of Australia, when it comes to the modern era of men’s professional road cycling. Names of retired legends like Phil Anderson, Cadel Evans, and Robbie McEwen are common on the lips of cycling aficionados Down Under.

The current crop of cyclists such as Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), Richie Porte (Sky), and Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) are doing their best to carry on the legacy of those that came before them, while the next generation of riders like Michael Matthews, Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge), and Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) are already making an impact.

One name that could soon make that list is Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff-Saxo). The 22-year-old Queenslander currently sits fourth on general classification at the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey after taking third in Thursday’s stage 5.

McCarthy trails stage 3 winner and current race leader Davide Rebellin (CCC Sprandi-Polkowice) by 1:20 with three stages remaining. But don’t ask McCarthy how all this has unfolded, as he is still not 100 percent sure himself.

“[Tuesday] was probably the first time I performed so well on such a long climb and hard finish,” McCarthy told VeloNews after finishing fourth in stage 3. “It just goes to show my climbing is improving at the moment, and I’m also feeling pretty comfortable around the bunch in the sprint stages, too.”

After the peloton was decimated on the second of three categorized climbs Tuesday, McCarthy rode confidently over the 165-kilometer route from Kemer to the category 1 summit finish atop Elmali.

“I’ve always been able to come good at the finish line when I see the final 500m to go,” admitted McCarthy. “It was a tough stage, and I knew before I came I was coming into good shape and it was great to have the team give me support to have a go.”

Tinkoff teammate Pavel Brutt joined a break after the second climb, which according to McCarthy took pressure off him in the bunch and left McCarthy with two domestiques heading into the final ascent.

“My team was great as they loaded me with water and nutrition and had me all set on the final climb to have a go,” said McCarthy. “I tried to go with Rebellin and [Kristijan] Durasek [of Lampre-Merida], but I was a bit too spent.

“I ended up finishing fourth. It was a nice stage for me.”

McCarthy animated the race again on stage 4 when he joined an attack on the final climb with 15km remaining heading into the sprint finish in Marmaris — later won by André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) for his historic 10th Turkey stage victory.

“We were in a good position coming into the last climb and the plan was for Pavel [Brutt] to go in to the attack, but then I saw a lot of the GC guys weren’t there and I thought I’d give it another go,” McCarthy told VeloNews.

“I was with a small group over the top of the climb, and then we didn’t get a big enough gap — only 20-30 seconds — but then myself and another guy went with about 3k to go but we were caught with 500m to go.

“Not quite enough, but it’s good to be able to do what you want to do when you feel you have the legs. You never know what can happen and an opportunity is an opportunity — so I took it again [on Wednesday].”

On Thursday, McCarthy held fourth on GC with a spectacular third-place finish just ahead of teammate Michael Kolar, right behind Carlos Barbero (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and stage winner Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida).

“Today was another good day,” McCarthy told VeloNews post-race. “The team looked after me all day and we also had Michael Kolar, who nearly pulled off the victory and probably would have if he hadn’t opened his sprint so early.

“All I did was sit in. I was second wheel on the bunch behind the Colombian and I waited to open my sprint to help Kolar try for the victory, which would have been perfect for the team.

“Modolo and a few of the others opened their sprints so I opened mine as well and finished third today. I am not going to make 1:20 up on Rebellin on the stage 6 climb, but there are some time gaps that might be able to help get me on the podium on the overall.

“I haven’t had a chance to ride for an overall in quite a while,” he continued. “I’m excited about tomorrow, and day by day I think I can hold it on the hilltop, and I’m quite confident I can pull off another good result.”

While McCarthy, who now resides in Lucca, Italy, is not yet a household name like many of his compatriots, the 2011 under-23 Internationale Thüringen-Rundfahrt stage winner is happy to bide his time and continue take the opportunities as they come.

“Some neo-pro professionals come into the pro ranks and perform straight away, and I took a different approach and did a lot more work for the team,” McCarthy said. “I’m starting to feel now that it’s taking benefit.

“You may not normally get as much notice for being a worker, but for me I feel my capabilities as a pro have improved greatly the last couple of years because of my working for the team.”

Following Turkey, McCarthy joins new teammate Peter Sagan at the Amgen Tour of California. His program has yet to be planned for the second half of the season. But McCarthy is not concerned, as he has plenty of time to figure it all out.

“Everyone asks me what kind of rider I am, and I tell them I think I’m an all-rounder who can get away with most things, but I’d love to focus on one-week tours and the Ardennes classics,” he said. “Short, sharp climbs are normally what suits me, but Wednesday I proved I can climb the long, steep ones as well.”

Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.