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The lanky Brit gritted his teeth and extended a restarted season that had already seen him in action at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de France, world championships, and Flèche Wallonne when he took to take the start line in Irún on October 20. Three weeks later, he was standing on the final podium in Madrid, waiting to receive his trophy for finishing in third place.
Outside the bright pink of EF Pro Cycling‘s team bus, few would have put Carthy on the list of contenders for this year’s Vuelta. He wasn’t even the leader of his own team. Carthy proved everyone wrong in his coming-of-age ride in Spain.
“I proved to a lot of people that past few weeks the ability that I’ve got and the ability I always knew I had,” Carthy told ITV Cycling after the final mountain stage Saturday. “It’s taken a while to come out, but I think it was worth the wait. I’ve proven to my teammates as well – they’ve put everything out for me, gone deep for me, stayed motivated deep into the year. I’m proud of them as well.”
Carthy’s podium finish in the Vuelta came after he crashed midway through the Tour, putting the brakes on his hopes to ride high in support of leader Rigoberto Urán as he ground out the rest of the race. After the 26-year-old felt on the edge of burnout having gutted out the Imola worlds and Flèche Wallone, he only made a late call to join the EF Pro Cycling lineup to support Daniel Martínez’s GC bid.
“I knew I’d be doing the Vuelta, but I didn’t really want to be doing it,” Carthy said having secured his podium spot Saturday.
“I had the option not to do the Vuelta a few weeks before the start, but I said ‘I’ll go, I’ll support Dani and see what I can do, maybe a stage, see how I feel.’ There was no pressure … but look where we are.”
Carthy’s unexpected path to third place began when Martínez abandoned ahead of stage 4. The Brit was already riding high in fifth on GC, and so the Colombian’s departure opened the door for him to ride for his own ambitions with the likes of Michael Woods and Tejay van Garderen in support.
Having long shown promise with 11th at last year’s Giro and a day-long breakaway win at the Tour de Suisse a month later, Carthy was able to convert potential into a podium slot.
“It was a real team effort, without them I couldn’t have done these three weeks like this,” Carthy said after securing third place after an attacking ride on the Covatilla. “But I’m proud of this effort myself and my progression, and I’m proud of myself for showing my ability.”
Carthy’s third place in Madrid puts a cap on a more-than-successful Vuelta for the EF Pro Cycling and put a perfect close on one of the team’s most successful years in its recent history.
Along with the Brit’s stage win atop the Angliru climb, Woods and Magnus Cort also scored stage wins at this Vuelta, while Jonathan Vaughters’ squad had taken two stage victories at the Giro d’Italia just weeks earlier. Before that, Martínez had lit up the team’s summer campaign with a stage win at the Tour de France and the overall win at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Carthy’s Vuelta success comes perfectly-timed for both his own young career and his team as a whole.
Two of EF Pro Cycling’s most successful riders are jumping ship at the end of the season, with Martínez on the move to Ineos Grenadiers and Woods transferring across to Israel Start-Up Nation. Meanwhile, Colombian veteran Urán rode to a resolute eighth place overall at the Tour, but 33-year-old “Rigo” only has so many more years left in his legs.
With another year on his contract, Carthy is poised to step to the center of the GC picture for EF Pro Cycling alongside similarly youthful Sergio Higuita, and the Brit’s battling ride into third place could be that start of things to come.
“I’ve believed in Hugh for a long time,” said Tejay van Garderen, who rode with Carthy through both this year’s Tour and Vuelta. “I know this is just the tip of the iceberg for him and he’s going to win a lot more races. I hope to be able to help him in any way possible.”
Carthy has the youth, the potential, and the ambition to keep EF Pro Cycling in winning ways in 2021, and with Woods and Martínez out of the picture, can rely on the full backing of his team.
“My career has changed a lot now. In the future, I want to try for grand tours,” Carthy said after stage 17 Saturday.
“I don’t want to stop now, and with the team we have, I’m in a perfect place to fight for those races. I can count on great support from the squad, and there are lots of opportunities ahead.”
This year’s stellar Vuelta campaign puts the perfect cap on a standout season for EF Pro Cycling, and it will take more than the exit of two marquee riders to deflate their tires as they pedal into 2021 and recalibrate around Carthy.
“Our staff and riders were fully committed until the end,” sports director Juanma Garate said after the Vuelta. “To win three stages and to just see how Hugh’s grown up and matured makes me feel good about next year.”