Robin Carpenter had something to prove in 2017. Following a successful 2016, he was unable to get a WorldTour contract.
So, he won a second Cascade Classic title and grabbed overall wins at the Joe Martin Stage Race and the Winston Salem Cycling Classic. He placed fourth at the U.S. Pro National Championships. All of those results were earned despite a nasty crash at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah in August that left him at home and unable to defend his Tour of Alberta title or race the inaugural Tour of Colorado.
Going into 2018, the 25-year-old American seemed poised to finally sign a coveted WorldTour contract, so it was a little surprising when he announced this fall that he would be leaving the Holowesko-Citadel team, where he’s been his entire professional career, to ride for the rival Rally Cycling program. Since Rally and Holowesko are both stepping up to the Pro Continental level for 2018, the move seemed like a horizontal shuffle.
The motivation for the team change wasn’t obvious on the surface, but Carpenter told VeloNews he sees the move as a necessary step in his development as a rider. His desire to change scenery may have left a bad taste in the mouth of Holowesko brass, but he stressed it was strictly a business decision.
“Sometimes people take things personally when it’s really more of a business decision,” he said. “You can’t pass up opportunities when they come floating your way, especially in this sport.”
Rally offered Carpenter the promise of a European-based race schedule, along with increased organizational support and a higher salary. While Carpenter’s first choice for 2018 was a WorldTour ride, the shrinking peloton and his relatively advanced age of 25 made it difficult to crack the top ranks. Rally seemed like the next-best option.
“[Rally] approached me before Utah started, so I knew they were interested,” he says. “If I’m honest, my priorities at the time were to try to find a WorldTour team, but there were a couple of factors working against me there. Everyone is downsizing teams. I think there were 30 fewer riders going into 2018 than there were going into 2017.”
He noted Rally’s emphatic performance at the 2017 Amgen Tour of California, where the squad shocked the WorldTour peloton by taking two stage wins, as a contributing factor in his decision.
“The last few years, they have been showing themselves to be a really well-organized team, really, really strong, and able to execute goals when they make a point of focusing them,” Carpenter added. “I think we saw that a lot at California last year. When they decided they were going to try to win as many stages as possible, they came away with two wins, which is unprecedented for a Continental team at California, especially now that it’s WorldTour.”
Carpenter admitted that the increased budget of his new team played a role in his decision.
“When they offered me a two-year contract and honestly, a nice raise, it was kind of a little bit of a no-brainer,” he said.
Another major factor was the prospect of an expanded and more international race schedule.
“They are planning on expanding their European programs significantly,” Carpenter said.” Ultimately, when I was thinking about trying to move to a higher-level team over last winter, what was on my mind was doing bigger and better races, and different races, specifically those in Europe. I was really excited they were planning on doing something different next year than the usual North American calendar.”
While Rally is still in the process of mapping out its 2018 campaign, Carpenter is excited to expand his horizons and leave behind a well-worn path of domestic racing.
“I’ve done a lot of races in the U.S. and won a fair few of them as well. I think that was another big motivation for moving on to something else, just to not have to do the same races over again that I’ve figured out by now,” he said.
“I felt a lot of pressure going into Cascade this year to repeat the win. I respond pretty well to pressure, but I didn’t like being entirely stressed out about trying to win at Cascade, which is for all intents and purposes not that important of a race. I’d rather move on to different races and challenges.”
With the European side of the calendar still uncertain, Carpenter would only name two goals: making the team’s Tour of California squad and winning a race in Europe, something he has only done once before in his career.
Carpenter’s career path is paved with undeniable ambition and talent, forced by necessity to live in an incredibly pragmatic framework. While he doesn’t know exactly what his future in cycling holds, he doesn’t need to wear a WorldTour kit to validate his decisions.
“I’m an ambitious person and like to get the most out of myself, but if someone told me right now I would never do the Tour de France or a grand tour, I’d keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “That is not the motivating force behind what I’m doing. Then again, that is probably me hedging somewhat.”
This theoretical decision is likely one Carpenter won’t be forced to make anytime soon. Considering his success, it is hard to imagine him not making the cut at some of the sport’s biggest events.