Tinkoff-Saxo’s Jay McCarthy: Who is he, and how far can he go?

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If there was a young rider who has made a big impression thus far at the Presidential Tour of Turkey, it’s the 22 year old Australian Jay McCarthy. The Tinkoff Saxo competitor rode strongly on Tuesday’s third stage summit finish to Elmali, netting fourth at the line and jumping up to fourth overall.

Then, after telling CyclingTips he would fight for as high a placing as possible, he attacked again on the climb in the finale of stage four. McCarthy was one of a quintet who clipped away with just over ten kilometres remaining, going over the top of the climb with a solid gap and then hammering it down the descent.

He then pushed on ahead with the Spaniard Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) inside the final five kilometres, digging in to try to fight it out for the stage win. The Lotto-Soudal team of eventual winner Andre Greipel battled hard to bring them back and only managed to do so with 600 metres to go.

McCarthy will undoubtedly try again in the days to come. CyclingTips spoke to him in advance of the fourth stage and found out more about one of the most talented young Australians in the pro peloton.

“Jay has never been better”

Starting off with his thoughts on the Elmali climb, McCarthy spoke about the ride that set him up for what could be his top pro GC stage race result to date.

“I have been climbing well in the previous races and in training my numbers have been good. So the team gave me the opportunity to go for the overall as we don’t have such a specific climber here,” he said. “It was nice.

“We had a good plan with Pavel Brutt going in the late move over the big climb in the middle of the stage and it took a lot of pressure off me so I could just follow wheels. I still had two team-mates with me, Juraj [Sagan] and Eduard [Beltran] and they looked after me into the final climb. Then it was just up to me to go with the right moves.”

Feeling good but likely giving too much, too soon as a result, McCarthy admits that he made a tactical error on the mountain.

“I followed a few probably too early on the climb. As it was getting higher into altitude, if you make too many deep moves it can affect you. I ended up not being able to with the two front guys but I sat with an Italian guy and made my way up. Then, in the last couple of kilometres, one guy came from the main group and I couldn’t go with him. I ended up finishing fourth.

“It was a nice day and I am happy…I thought I was going well and it just proves that I am.”

His directeur sportif Nicki Sorensen took a lot of pleasure from what he saw. “I am super happy with the way Jay has performed,” he told CyclingTips, again speaking prior to the fourth stage.

“The way I see Jay, he has never been better. He is really showing his potential now and he knows he has never been better than this. I am proud of him.”

Asked what would happen next, Sorensen said that the team would see what could be done to continue his progress up the general classification.

“It is stage six where the next thing is going to happen,” he predicted, referring to the race’s second summit finish, the climb of Selcuk.

“Apart from that, stay out of trouble and be professional. That is the way to do it.”

Sorensen, a retired pro who won a stage in the 2009 Tour de France, added that he believed Tuesday’s Elmali climb was likely the big decider in terms of the overall standings. As a result of that third stage, Davide Rebellin holds a seven second lead over his closest challenger, Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), and is 50 seconds clear of Eduardo Sepúlveda (Bretagne – Séché Environnement).

McCarthy is one minute 20 seconds adrift heading towards stage five.

The race leader’s turquoise jersey is likely too far ahead for him to mount a serious assault, but he’ll try anyway. And even if that doesn’t succeed, he knows that he is a more manageable 30 seconds off third place.

“What is important for him that we keep him calm for the moment and see how the opposition is doing,” said Sorensen. “Maybe some of them will crack under pressure, we will see.”

He paused, then added with a laugh. “He [McCarthy] is not going to do that.”

Asked about his aspirations in the days ahead, the Australian said he’ll keep trying.

“I think the next uphill finish could suit me a little bit better. It is not as high as altitude and is not as long,” he said. “For me, until yesterday I hadn’t performed so well on such a long time. It was a nice feeling so it is obviously showing that I am improving in that ability.

“I will have another go. It would be great to move up into the podium for the overall.”

Jay McCarthy and Jayco AIS team-mates Nick Aitken, Michael Hepburn, Patrick Lane and Alex Carver after the stage two team time trial at the 2011 Thuringen Rundfahrt.
Jay McCarthy and Jayco AIS team-mates Nick Aitken, Michael Hepburn, Patrick Lane and Alex Carver after the stage two team time trial at the 2011 Thuringen Rundfahrt.

“I have had good times and I have had bad times”

McCarthy is obviously a rider to watch for the future, but what about his past? Born on September 8 1992 in Maryborough, Queensland, he lived in Brisbane. He told CyclingTips [see embedded audio file] that he began as a runner and then got into triathlon via a high school teacher of his who coached such a programme, Dave Trevorrow.

McCarthy did cycling as part of that sport and said that it grabbed his attention. He reached a point where he was representing the state in both triathlon and cycling and had to decide which of the two he would continue with.

Cycling won out, due partly to his dislike of swimming, and once the decision was made he went through the Queensland Academy of Sport.

That in turn led on to an advancement in his athletic career. He was part of the junior world championship teams in 2009 and 2010; on the first of those two occasions he was seventh in the road race.

Twelve months later he was a superb second in Aquaviva Picena, taking the silver medal behind Frenchman Olivier Le Gac and ahead of current Lotto Soudal pro Jasper Stuyven of Belgium.

McCarthy clearly had a lot of ability and raced as part of the Jayco AIS setup in 2011 and 2012. In the first year he won a stage and finished fourth overall in the Internationale Thüringen-Rundfahrt for under 23 riders.

His 2012 season was better again, with results including a prologue win and slot as race leader in the Tour de l’Avenir, as well as stage wins in races such as the Tour de Bretagne.

Tinkoff Saxo paid attention and at the end of 2012, he signed a contract with the squad.

Remembering that time, he said that there were ups and downs since that point. “Of course in the first couple of years you can sometimes jump into the professional ranks and go into getting results straight away,” he said.

“I have had good times and I have had bad times in trying to adjust to the difference between and amateur to a professional.

“I have done a lot of work for the team in other races. I think a key moment last year was getting to do my first Grand Tour in the Giro. Finishing that and having good shape during the whole time was a positive for my strength. I can cope with more, and can put more power in the pedals. It is good.”

McCarthy didn’t only finish; on stage 17 he infiltrated a breakaway on the day after the Stelvio stage. He had been riding most of the race for Rafal Majka, who went on to take sixth overall, but was given the green light to try something himself on the day in question.

Once in the move he tried to go for the stage. “It actually went around an area I did a race in as an under 23,” he said. “I knew the climbs and I went with a few moves, then there was four or five of us going into the finish.

“I ended up missing out on the win. The Bardini guy went and I tried to lead out the sprint long to see if we could catch him and then I ended up finishing third. But it was a good experience.”

It was, as he said, also important to be given his own chance after riding in a helping role in many of the other races.

Ditto for the green light he got for the Tour of Turkey team leadership. That show of faith has given him confidence and so too his sensations on the bike.

“This year I have had a bit of a later start to the season. The races I have been going to, I have had the chance to perform for myself and have some of the team support me. So it is really nice.”

“He has shown that already as an under 23 rider he was one of the best”

Now based in Lucca in Italy, McCarthy said that the town has been one favoured by the squad over the years. Former team owner Bjarne Riis was himself based there when he was a pro; since his retirement, several Danish riders have themselves moved there.

McCarthy points out that one of the team’s coaches, Giuseppe Toni, also lives in the region.

“It was just a good environment to be in the team and be in that area,” he said, speaking of his move. “It is good training.”

CyclingTips spoke to McCarthy for several minutes. During that time, the only question that gave him real pause was one about what he does in his spare time.

The answer illustrates the degree of tunnel vision he has for the sport.

“I don’t know,” he replied, momentarily stuck for worlds. “Think about cycling, I guess. Think about getting good. [pauses, thinks]. My girlfriend is living with me overseas. Just normal stuff.”

With McCarthy being talented and determined to be the best rider he can be, Sorensen said that a very strong future could be in store.

“He has shown that already as an under 23 rider he was one of the best,” he said. “He can do a good sprint from a small group. Time trialing is not his strong side but he is a good climber as well.

“He looks like a different rider this year. He has really improved compared to the first two years as a pro. And [he’s] a great guy as well on top of that. Intelligent guy, relaxed. That is also a strong side of him.”

So how far can he go? “I don’t see him as a Grand Tour contender,” he responded, then backtracked slightly. “[Well], maybe. I don’t want to set too much limits on him. But definitely he can be a contender for a lot of races.”

McCarthy made clear that he needs time before he can make any sort of prediction of his own about what is achievable.

“To be honest, I am still finding myself,” he said. “I am still at a young age and am still trying to figure out what really suits me. Until now I have sort of just been a bit of an all-rounder, I guess.

“It is nice to go through it that way as I don’t go to any race thinking ‘I hate being here.’

“It is not like I go to Belgium and say ‘I don’t like being on the cobbles,’ or I go to a mountain stage race and think that. At the moment I am still developing as a bit of an all-rounder and I like that idea.

“So maybe week long Tours or even one day Classics like the Ardennes. The short, sharp climbs may suit me in the future.”

At 22, though, it’s very hard to predict what might happen. Sorensen said that the crucial thing at this point in time was to enjoy the sport as much as he could.

“I am not Jay’s coach, but for me the most important thing for him is to do races like this. To have fun and do nice results and be an asset for the team.

“He is made for these type of races. That is where his level is at the moment. Of course he could do nice in a Grand Tour but for the moment he will do even better than great in these races.”

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“Of course it is every professional cyclist’s dream to do the Tour”

McCarthy will achieve what he can in Turkey, then once that race is over he will likely head to the Tour of California. He is expected to line out alongside team-mate Peter Sagan and said he is happy to support him in what is one of Sagan’s favourite events of the season.

As regards the rest of the programme, he said that he had been given a rough idea of the likely schedule. However he added that his run of rich form could lead to changes.

“I think at the moment with the way I am performing, a few things are about to change in the programme.”

He says the Giro d’Italia is very unlikely. But could the Tour de France be part of a newly jigged schedule?

McCarthy deems it unlikely in 2015, saying that the presence of two big names within the line-up meant that space could be tight.

“It is just difficult for the team having Alberto and Peter also,” he said. “Unless I do something crazy awesome in the next couple of races, I don’t think so this year.

“I think they have planned it pretty well in advance and they have kept the squad together training at altitude for the Tour. Of course it is every professional cyclist’s dream to do the Tour. Hopefully one day.”

If he can keep developing at the rate he is at, that one day will come sooner rather than later.

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