As the Giro d’Italia grinds its riders down into the third week of attritional racing, the cream inevitably rises to the top. This emerges primarily in the shape the GC battle takes, but also in the individuals who form the day’s break in search of stage glory. There are two races in one, most days.
Many riders have hauled themselves up the road for days on end. Bahrain-Victorious’ Santiago Buitrago was unsuccessful on stage 15, and finished stage 16 in tears before crashing on stage 17 en route to finally lifting his hands in the air. His story has a satisfying arc, the sort we all hope for, where challenges and hardship are overcome before eventual victory, riding off into the sunset with whatever your personal equivalent of a Giro stage victory is.
There are other riders who’ve been in the break for three consecutive days, through sun, wind and rain but with little to show for it.
One such rider is EF Education EasyPost’s Hugh Carthy. He may be the most notable due to his green and pink hulking figure, the peloton’s answer to Despicable Me’s Gru as he towers over the other diminutive, minion-esque climbers he associates within the break each day.
Mouth open, he battles each metre of tarmac, trying to make the definitive selection before the likes of Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Jan Hirt (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and most recently Buitrago.
Carthy arrived at the Giro d’Italia with general classification hopes, his third place at the 2020 Vuelta a España still mentioned most days when the Brit appears on our television screens, The result marks him out as a dark horse whenever he lines up for a Grand Tour. If the stars align, he can make things happen.
But it all fell apart on Blockahus, losing four minutes to the other overall contenders. A further loss of 17 minutes on stage 14 signalled a change in tactic, now aiming for a stage win.
Interviewed in the rain before the start of stage 17, Carthy was as matter of fact as ever. He didn’t mind the rain too much, everyone had to ride in it, and he would continue trying on a third, consecutive stage to cross the line first.
It’s almost impossible to bend Hugh Carthy to your will, try as the TV interviewers might, the riders and teams are contractually obliged to speak to the rights holders. The Brit rides his own tempo, a lanky diesel engine spluttering up and down mountains in search of a victory that feels barely tangential to his participation in the race. Carthy will continue to chug along until this Giro is done, a stage win would be fair compensation for his efforts. But when is bike racing fair?