Approximately 40 kilometres from the end of Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, things unravelled for Jay McCarthy and, by extension, for Peter Sagan’s chances in the race. McCarthy was with his teammate in the main group of favourites, but tangled with Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) on a corner and hit the ground.
Although the fall wasn’t a heavy one, McCarthy was delayed just as the race was heating up. He was listed as a DNF, while Sagan, lacking a teammate, was unable to control all the attacks. He won the group sprint for fourth.
In Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, McCarthy will get his own chance. He has been in impressive form since the start of this year, netting victories in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean road race and on a stage of the Itzulia Basque Country. He was also second in the Australian national road race championships, third and fifth on stages of the Santos Tour Down Under, plus third, third and fifth on stages of the Volta a Catalunya.
It’s been a very good start to the year, and indicates that McCarthy may have moved up a notch.
“I think every year if you do the right thing and try to change for the better, you can get better each time,” McCarthy told CyclingTips on Sunday. “I feel like this year everything is going well. Without any sicknesses in the off season, it was a pretty good run through to have some good results.”
That in turn has affected him mentally. “I feel pretty confident,” he says. “But relaxed also. I guess probably the best way to describe how I have matured over the last couple of years is to not let things that you can’t change stress you out. So, kind of go with the flow of things, keep calm most of the time. And if you work hard, things always pay off in the end.”
The ability to stay relaxed while simultaneously maintaining focus is one which is an important one. Becoming too wound up wastes energy; on the other hand, being too chilled out can also be detrimental.
Looking at his results, though, it seems that McCarthy has struck a good balance. His Bora-hansgrohe teammate Sagan is someone who is very good in this area. Has racing alongside the world champion been beneficial to the Australian?
“Yeah,” he answers. “I think over the last couple of years, Peter has given me that advice and that impression. Also, when we race together in stressful moments, it has been nice to be able to ride alongside him, him keeping me calm out there and me doing the same.
“It is a nice feeling to have a leader like that on the team. You don’t feel the stress off him, so I think it makes it easier to do your job.”
McCarthy was backing Sagan on Sunday, but the Slovakian’s Classics campaign is over now. He won’t ride Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, nor Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. McCarthy will instead get his chance in both races. As a rider who can climb solidly and who also has a punchy finish, the races as a good platform to show his progress.
According to Bora-hansgrohe directeur sportif Christian Pömer, McCarthy is developing well. He’s now 25, and each passing season appears to benefit him. “We already saw in Australia that, with him getting more mature, he is a guy who can win WorldTour races at the highest level,” he told CyclingTips. “That is what we hope to do, step by step.”
Weighing how things have been going in recent weeks, McCarthy believes he is where he needs to be. “I was going really well in the Basque Country,” he says. “Also, in Catalunya, I was on the way up. I think I have timed it pretty well. Hopefully I can show something this week.
“Flèche Wallonne has obviously a very tough final,” he says. “But if I can reach there in a really good position, that kind of power suits me well. I have been training to have hopefully a really good day that day. I will be aiming for a top five, for sure.”
He’s more reserved about his chances in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, although he’d obviously jump at the chance to perform there if things work out that way.
“I think Wednesday’s race suits me better than Sunday,” he admits. “I think Liège is probably a bit too…maybe too hard for me at this stage, although last year I was there or thereabouts. Let’s see what happens on Sunday.
“I know the form is there, and I will be fighting hard. If I am not there for my own result, we have a strong team there also to support. I think that at each of these races, we have a great opportunity.”