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Now the waiting game begins for Robin Carpenter.
Two years after breaking through with a solo stage win at the USA Pro Challenge, Carpenter, 24, further solidified his advancing career with the overall title Monday at the Tour of Alberta.
It was the best-yet result for Carpenter, whose 2016 season has also included overall victory at the Cascade Classic, a stage win at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, third overall at the Tour de Beauce, and fourth overall at the Joe Martin Stage Race.
With the overall victory, the inevitable questions arise — where will Carpenter, one of the most consistent American riders on the North American circuit in 2016, ride next season?
Despite speculation that both he and his teammate Travis McCabe may leave Holowesko-Citadel for the Pro Continental team UnitedHealthcare, Carpenter said he’s currently without a contract for 2017.
The ever-evolving status of WorldTour and Pro Continental squads — Tinkoff and IAM Cycling will end in 2016, while Cannondale and Drapac merged in June — may complicate Carpenter’s future, but he didn’t appear concerned after claiming his most important title.
“It’s not really my call [whether an Alberta victory is an entree to a WorldTour team] or not,” Carpenter said after his one-second triumph over defending champion Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). “No one has called me, so we will see how it goes. I’m not too worried about it. I really enjoy riding my bike.”
A Philadelphia native — he grew up just a few blocks from the famous Manayunk Wall used in the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic — Carpenter graduated from Swarthmore College in 2014, studying economics and environmental studies, and now lives in San Diego, California. A few months after graduation ceremonies, he soloed to victory in Crested Butte at the USA Pro Challenge.
“I’ve said it before. I am just happy to get paid to race my bike, wherever that is. I love my team. I have a great time. We’ll see if the right opportunity comes around. Who knows? That’s about all I can say. But I don’t have a contract for next year.”
Carpenter, whose Continental team ended its stage-race season at the Tour of Alberta, accumulated the best season of his young career on a squad that also saw McCabe take UCI stage wins at Joe Martin, Tour of the Gila, and the Tour of Utah.
“This is the biggest win I’ve had ever,” Carpenter said. “I’ve had a couple of solid stage wins, but to get an overall win like this is pretty important to me. I think it’s a confirmation of my abilities as a good GC competitor. I’m a good all-rounder. I’m not great at anything, but pretty good at everything.”
This year’s Tour of Alberta featured only two WorldTour teams; the inaugural edition, in 2013, featured six. This year’s race was reduced by one day from last year’s race, was void of a mountain stage, and had three less teams than planned.
But the field included a handful of varied seasoned top-level pros: retiring Trek-Segafredo teammates Frank Schleck and Ryder Hesjedal; 40-year-old Francisco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai), the five-time top-10 overall finisher at the Tour de France who won the final stage; and Mollema.
But it was Carpenter who became the fourth-year event’s first non-WorldTour winner following victories by Australian Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp), South African Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) and Mollema, the veteran Dutchman who finished 11th in the Tour de France and a week later won La Clasica San Sebastian.
Carpenter pedaled to his winning margin after finishing third in the short Stage 4 time trial behind Mollema, the stage winner. With that TT performance, Carpenter opened a seven-second cushion over Evan Huffman (Rally), who had become race leader after beating Carpenter from a breakaway to win Stage 3.
“On [the Stage 4 time trial] we had four guys in the top 12, and that was sort of a harbinger of things to come, of how strong the team could be at the front,” said Carpenter. “We have couple of guys who are strong time trialists, and a smart guy, Oscar Clark, who always knows when to let the break go, and when to pedal hard, when not to pedal hard, and how to save the most energy and be in the most control.
“The rest of the team just rode out of their skins today, they were fully committed. They believed in me probably more than I believed in myself. I have to thank them a lot for the week. It’s a team sport and people tend to forget that. Whether it was a little bit of a crosswind, or whatever, there was somebody always there for me.”
Taking the race lead with one stage remaining, Carpenter and Holowesko-Citadel had one job to do in Edmonton on Sunday — make sure Mollema did not advance one second over Carpenter on the hilly, 11-lap circuit.
“[The Stage 4 time trial] was a big surprise and I was pretty afraid going into [Stage 5] with only one second, but we did a good job and hats off to the team. With two laps to go, when Trek started pulling really hard and was getting Mollema in position on the climb, I was getting really worried. But I got a great lead-out from my team on the beginning of the last lap.”
Mollema could only acknowledge that he’d been beaten by a strong, younger rider from a strong, younger Continental team.
“We knew we had to make the race hard and try to isolate Carpenter from his team,” Mollema said. “In the last three laps we just went full, full gas on the climbs with Ryder (Hesjedal) and Fränk (Schleck), and so the gap to the breakaway got much smaller.
“I tried with two laps to go on the steep climb after Greggy (Rast) went hard a few times, but it didn’t work; I couldn’t drop Carpenter. In the end, he only had a few teammates left, but the peloton was still quite big, and I knew it was over. Chapeau to him. He was strong and his team did a great job.”
About the author
James Raia has reported on cycling for more than 30 years and is co-author of Tour de France For Dummies. In addition to writing about cycling and other sports, he contributes business and lifestyle content to several publications, and has been the editor and publisher of the automotive website theweeklydriver.com since 2004. James lives with his wife Gretchen and two cats in Sacramento, California.