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Robin Carpenter has won everything in his capacity in North America.
But the American, in his fifth season with Holowesko-Citadel, remains humble. The 25-year old, an alumnus of Swarthmore College in his home state of Pennsylvania, recently spoke to CyclingTips from Holowesko-Citadel’s high altitude camp in Park City, Utah.
His higher education — he earned a degree in economics and environmental studies in 2014 — is a rarity in professional cycling, and aids his interviews. He’s articulate but laid back when speaking on his successes, which over the past 12 months have been numerous.
Over last two years Carpenter has asserted himself as the best all-rounder in the country with GC wins at the Joe Martin Stage Race, back-to-back wins at the Cascade Classic, and arguably the most notable result of his career, an overall win at the 2016 Tour of Alberta, where his Holowesko-Citadel teammates overcame the WorldTour strength of Bauke Mollema and Trek-Segafredo.
When he’s not winning stage races, he’s winning stages — he’s taken big UCI wins at the USA Pro Challenge and Tour of Utah, both times solo from breakaways.
Carpenter is equally at home on technical one-day circuits, with a 2017 victory at the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic. He also had an admirable performance at the national road championships in May, finishing fourth, fastest from the first chase group.
Simply put, no other racer on the domestic circuit can match his versatility.
“At this point I’ve won the races I’m capable of winning and trying to do repeats of that is extremely stressful,” he said. “I think I’ve pretty much exhausted my potential for winning in the United States. That’s part of my motivation for moving on, whether with a Pro Conti team or a WorldTour outfit. It’s no holds barred at this point for trying to move on.”
Carpenter acknowledges he lacks the pure climbing strength necessary to win a summit finish or the overall at the Tour of Utah. But that doesn’t mean he reserves himself in the high mountains, however. He’s equally happy to expend himself for one of his Holowesko-Citadel teammates who may be better suited on the day. The same goes for stages where the team’s sprinters John Murphy and Ty Magner have a shot at glory. Magner’s Stage 1 win was a perfect example, edging out Chris Lawless (Axeon Hagens Berman) and Travis McCabe (UnitedHealthcare).
As for the Tour of Utah overall, Carpenter said he won’t be the team’s GC leader.
“I think that TJ [Eisenhart] is going to be the guy. He’s a much better climber than I am. I’m never really that great on Little Cottonwood Canyon [Stage 6 in 2017]. It’s super tough. I’d say more of my focus is on stages or riding for TJ when we get the chance. I think he totally has the win in his legs.”
Holowesko-Citadel has a reputation for refined and selfless team riding. They’re most at home when lined up on the front of a race, doing everything in their power to control the outcome for whomever is the leader on the day. Doubtless, the team has been a major part of Carpenter’s success — he’s currently leading the America Tour standings, as is the team — and he’s quick to praise the squad he’s been with for the last five seasons.
“Everyone seems to be invested in the team’s success. There isn’t much infighting that occurs with regards to getting results,” he said. “Everybody is happy doing the work for the team and they know that whomever is left to finish it off is going to do it as well as they can.
“I’m really happy with how the team has raced all year. We’ve been having our best year ever. We’ve won almost every race we’ve started with the exception of Gila.” He began to recite the list: “Joe Martin, Redlands [Eisenhart took the GC win at the 2017 event], Beauce, Winston Salem, Cascade… winning all those overalls is a testament to the team this year.”
Carpenter’s success begs the question: Why hasn’t he signed with a WorldTour outfit?
For him, a sustainable process – one that accommodates his lifestyle and his relationships – is preferable to the quickest and easiest path.
“Part of my trepidation in trying to take the shortest way possible to the WorldTour is I went to school , and also, my fiancée has been in graduate school for the last three years and probably will be for another two to three,” he said. “It makes me a little more cautious with the stuff I’m willing to do to race at the next level.
“Moving to Europe full time isn’t really an option at the moment. If I was just by myself it’d be really easy just to pack it up and move over there and give it my best shot. But circumstances being what they are I have to be more a little more careful about what I’m doing.”
His hesitation doesn’t mean the opportunities aren’t there, however. He’s working with California-based rider agent Matt Wickstrom at Wasserman Media Group to navigate the convoluted process of securing a contract at the sport’s highest level.
“We’ve got some leads and interest from a couple of WorldTour outfits and stronger interest from a couple of Pro Continental teams. I’m optimistic that it will go well and I’ll be somewhere I want to be next year.”
It seems as if Carpenter doesn’t yet know his ceiling of performance within the sport. That’s a major part of his motivation to move on from the American calendar– the same circuit he’s raced every season for the last seven years, since he was 18.
“I’m going to give it my best shot and see what happens. It’d be foolish to… Not to sound pompous, but to remain at a level where I’m kind of sandbagging some of the races, just for my own sake in the future – mentally – knowing that I gave it everything I could to figure out how good I was. I really want to try to do more with my career and cultivate some more challenges.”
“I came to the realization over the winter that I was tired of taking the conservative approach to my career. I decided to go full in and try to make it as far as possible.”
Going “full in” is something Carpenter has done over the last couple seasons of his career, reflected by his outstanding results. Where his talent will take him in 2018 remains to be seen.