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by Shane Stokes
August 16, 2016
Photography by Photo Gómez Sport
In terms of the next generation of riders, Hugh Carthy has been one of the revelations of the season. This spring he was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana on the climbs. This month he will aim to do the same again when he lines out against them and others in the Vuelta a España.
Find out more about the rider who Cannondale-Drapac CEO Jonathan Vaughters regards as perhaps the most exciting young stage racing talent around.
1. He made a big impression in several races this year, squaring up against some of the biggest names in the sport
Although he was just 21 years old at the time, Carthy’s performance in several early season races turned heads. He finished a superb ninth overall in the Volta a Catalunya in March, just 15 seconds behind Chris Froome (Sky) and ahead of others such as Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Fabio Aru (Astana). The performance also earned him the best young rider award.
In May he was also ninth overall in the Vuelta a Madrid, then made a big splash in June when he was scrapping it out against Nairo Quintana on the fourth stage of the Route du Sud.
Carthy came up against Quintana and his Movistar teammate Marc Soler, with the two ganging up on him and Soler taking the stage. However, while Carthy finished just behind Quintana in third, his ride earned plenty of admiration. It also showcased his climbing abilities.
2. He won the Vuelta a Asturias in May, but has kept his feet firmly on the ground about that
Carthy took the opening stage of the race and then led from start to finish, winning the 2.1-ranked event. Despite that success he’s very level-headed about the achievement.
“It was a nice race to win. It was quite an important race for our team in Spain,” the Preston, Lancashire rider told CyclingTips. “But it is a level I should be performing at. I think if I hadn’t come away with a top three, top four or five I would have been disappointed.
“It wasn’t a WorldTour race but it is nice to go to these slightly lower-key races and perform. It is something I like to do.”
Carthy admits he was nervous about defending the race lead, but points out that Caja Rural had a good team there. That helped settle his mind, even if he knew the overall wasn’t guaranteed.
“I knew I was going well myself. I knew that my legs wouldn’t let me down. It was a case of not making an error here or there tactically.
“I knew my teammates would try their best so if we all tried our best and I was beaten fair and square, then you can’t be too disappointed. With that attitude, I didn’t feel too much pressure. Winning it was great. I’d say Catalunya was more important, but if you look at the riders who have won Asturias in the past, it is a pretty good list.”
Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) wins stage one of the Vuelta a Asturias, 2016.
3. He recently signed a WorldTour contract with Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling
Carthy has been competing for the past two seasons with the Spanish Pro Continental squad Caja Rural-Seguros RGA. He’s made a strong impression there, particularly this year, and secured the interest of the Cannondale-Drapac team. As a result he will step up to WorldTour level next season.
“You gotta go with your gut instinct,” he said in confirming the signing. “Mine told me to go with Cannondale-Drapac. It seemed like the right step. There were [other] teams that were interested. There were teams that might have more money, this, that, whatever, but for this moment in my career, Cannondale definitely seemed like the best option for me. I’m happy with my decision.”
So too is the team. General manager Jonathan Vaughters knows that he has got a rising star on board.
“He’s shown he’s a world-class stage racer at the age of 21,” Vaughters stated, referring to his performances this spring prior to his birthday in July. “In my opinion, probably the best young stage-racing talent out of the UK, if not period. I think he’s got a big future in three-week races, and we want to help him develop into the best rider he can be.”
4. The team has had its eye on him for quite some time
Carthy is coached by the Briton Ken Matheson. The latter previously worked with Charly Wegelius when he was a pro. Wegelius is now a directeur sportif with Cannondale-Drapac, and Carthy has been on his radar for several seasons.
“Charly has remained a mate of mine for quite a long time,” Matheson told CyclingTips. “I knew he had his eye open for young talent, really before they became prominent. A good few years ago I said to him, ‘watch out for Hugh Carthy.’ Charly asked to see his lab test results, which I sent him, and he said he was interested.
“At the time Hugh was with the Rapha Condor team. Charly actually wanted him to stay there a bit longer, but Hugh went off and got this contract with Caja Rural. It has turned out to be a brilliant move, really, because they have done the kind of races where he could shine and where he could really develop. He’s been able to ride the big climbs and you can see his talent there.”
Wegelius now has the chance to work with Carthy, and he’s excited by the prospect.
“I’ve always tracked him, kept an eye on him,” he said. “Beyond his results, which anyone can see, the thing that really impresses me about Hugh is the way he’s gone about achieving what he’s achieved.
“He’s done it the hard way. In a world where riders from Great Britain are wrapped up in the bubble of British Cycling, he went out and made a go of it in Pamplona and raced with a small team. He really did it the tough way.”
“It’s something that’s going to keep him in a good position when things get tough at this level. We already know ahead of time that Hugh can manage with very little and perform with very little. He can handle the hard yards. He’s going to know how to deal with that. And to me, that’s really promising.”
Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) finishes third behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) on stage 4 of the 2016 Route du Sud.
5. It appears Carthy fell through the cracks at British Cycling
Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia winner Dan Martin is one rider who was born in Britain that followed a different route to many within the British Cycling system. He was turned down for support as he wasn’t a track rider. Instead, he went and based himself in France, getting a pro contract that way. He ultimately declared for Ireland.
According to Matheson, Carthy is another who didn’t fit in because he had no track background. He raced instead with Rapha-Condor, won the Tour de Korea and the mountains jersey in the Tour of Japan, and secured a contract with Caja Rural-Seguros RGA.
Matheson suggests he was disappointed not to be valued more by British Cycling but, years later, Carthy is sanguine about the whole thing.
“Maybe I was off their radar but I was on other people’s radar instead,” he reasons. “I was doing my own thing, sticking to the road. John Herety [the Rapha Condor general manager] helped me a lot. He wanted me to be part of his team. It is like swings and roundabouts. Missing out on one thing but getting other things
“British Cycling have their own way of developing riders. At a young age I didn’t really fit into that. They have a criteria that you have to do the velodrome to enter the system. They used to do different things to what I did. That was the end of it, as far as I have been concerned. That is the way it has been since.
“If they asked me to ride for them, British Cycling, I would say yes, no problem. They just operate differently to the way I do. That’s it, really.”
6. He showed remarkable maturity and single-mindedness to get to where he is now
Matheson points out that Carthy went to Spain by himself at just 20 years of age, moving to Pamplona to be closer to his team. He’s fared well there and now regards it as his home.
That same single-mindedness has been in evidence in his cycling too.
“The thing that I like about him is that he is probably one of the easiest people that I have ever coached. He is demanding in the sense that he wants it right, he wants to know what to do and he to do things absolutely properly, but he just gets on with it,” says Matheson. “He also accepts things and moves on when it is necessary.
“For example, he was riding very well in the Route du Sud. He finished third behind Soler and Quintana on one of the stages after Quintana sat on him all the day to the finish.
“He could have finished on the podium overall. However on the final stage he was actually pulled off his bike by one of the Direct Energie riders, who grabbed Hugh’s saddle.
“Afterwards, Hugh was standing there just looking at the guy. He wasn’t fighting him. He didn’t bemoan it. He just picked himself up, said ‘oh well,’ and he moved on. His attitude was that he was glad it hadn’t happened the day before, because at least he got that good stage out of the race. That is his attitude.
“I think you need that in professional bike riding. If you can’t just accept things and move on, you are going to tear your hair out over everything unfair and you are probably not going to last very long.”
7. Although very driven, Carthy says he is taking a ‘wait and see approach’
Asked by CyclingTips earlier this year about his goal for the season, Carthy was very non-specific. “I would like to achieve the best from myself, whether that means supporting someone to a stage win in a big race or if that means winning a race myself.
“Personally I have my own way of quantifying whether I am doing well or not. But, no, I have no specific objectives. I’m not going to say I want to win this or that. Longer term I’d say the same thing; I want to get the best out of myself. I don’t know exactly what it could be. In some ways, it is not for me to say.”
He’s got a similarly non-specific approach to the upcoming Vuelta a España. “This is my first Grand Tour, which is an important step for any cyclist. I still don’t know my abilities in a three week stage race but, as always, I start out with a lot of optimism. I will take it day by day and see how the legs respond and see if I can get a result.”
8: Matheson is rather more ambitious about what he might achieve
“Put it this way, I am trying to find a way of putting 50 quid on him winning the Tour within the next eight years,” his coach says. “He has a big engine. When you look at what he can do, he can climb with the best in the world. He has proved that he has climbed with Quintana, he climbed with Froome earlier in the year at Catalunya. He can climb with the best of them.
“He is actually a very good time trialist too. Here in the UK he has done some very good rides on what we call sporting courses, proper time trial courses. He has won those. If you put those two things together, being able to time trial and being able to climb with the best in the world – plus the fact that he recovers well – you have already got the main ingredients for a GC contender in big Tours.”
Hugh Carthy (r) with his former Rapha Condor teammate Mike Cuming
9. A former teammate regards him as one of the most determined riders he’s seen
British rider Mike Cuming competed alongside Carthy as part of the Rapha Condor team, winning the Tour of Korea in 2013. He told CyclingTips that Carthy was keen to make his mark, even when the pressure was off.
“I can remember the first time I met Hugh. He was a tall, skinny kid and fairly shy. The team were signing him for the 2013 season and at the end of 2012, John Herety brought him over to Trinidad and Tabago for a week of racing.
“Before the first race we did I remember John saying to him, ‘you have a contract for next year so you don’t have to impress me. Just sit in and wait and see how you go.’
“About 30 seconds into the race you could see the gangly figure of Hugh already attacking solo up the road. Which you could either take as being stupid and a waste of energy or, the way I looked at it, showed he wasn’t scared of anything. He had confidence and he didn’t care that he had never raced at this level before.
“Unfortunately for Hugh he was sat in the feed zone a few laps later but still it was impressive in more ways than one. I think that kind of attitude is the main reason why he’s gone so far in his career. He might blow up in a race again and again, but eventually he gains the strength to stay there.”
Cuming said that Carthy was also equally as committed when racing to help others.
“As a team mate he was great to have. He was only young but could really hurt himself. The year before he won the Tour of Korea he did it and was riding for me up one of the mountain top finishes.
“I’ve never seen someone blow up, get dropped, fight back, shout encouragement, get back on the front, get dropped and get back up again.
“He’s a determined bloke, that’s for sure.”