Hugh Carthy is still officially a neo-pro but he enjoyed a breakthrough performance at the recent Volta a Catalunya. The Caja Rural rider finished ninth overall and won the best young classification at the Spanish WorldTour race just a minute behind the winner and Tour de France contender Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
The young Briton is about to embark on his next big goal of the season at the Giro del Trentino, where he will go up against riders such as Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Mikel Landa (Team Sky).
Cyclingnews spoke to the modest, but ambitious 21-year-old to discuss his Catalunya ride, competing with the best in the world and his hopes for the future.
Cyclingnews: How have you been since Catalunya?
Hugh Carthy: [It has been] pretty quiet. I’ve tried to keep it as quiet as possible. I’ve done a bit of racing since then, a few one-day races. I took a few days off to rest after Catalunya and I’ve trained quite hard in between until now.
CN: You’ve had some time to reflect on what you did in Catalunya, what are your thoughts on finishing top 10 in what was a really strong group of riders?
HC: I don’t know. I had trained quite hard for it. I must admit that I hadn’t expected to come away with a top 10 overall. I’d perhaps thought it was achievable to get into the top 10 or 20 on a couple of stages, if everything went well, but to come away with a top 10 was slightly surprising for myself. I think it’s the kind of level that I need to be performing at this season and next year, if I want to make good progress towards the future. It’s a level that I need to step up to. Not so much winning those kinds of races but featuring and being as close as possible to the top riders.
CN: You must take some big confidence going into your next races?
HC: Definitely. Once you know that you can perform at the highest level in a field like that, you can at least try and do well in every race that you do. Some races suit you better than others. It does give you a bit of an extra confidence boost.
CN: What is the mindset going into Trentino?
HC: I’ve looked at some of the stages. It’s going to be a tough race. I don’t know if I’m going okay for it, I’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to say, I’ll do this or I’ll do that. We’ll see how it goes. Usually the team time trial is a good indicator and I’ll know there if I’m feeling good.
CN: You finished fourth in the best young rider classification last year, is that a target for you or is the general classification more important?
HC: The youth classification is a nice title to win and it would be nice to win. But for me, in Catalunya, the best young title felt less important than finishing top 10 in the main classification. I always like to compare myself to the top riders and I think that is more important from a progression point of view. That said, it would still be a nice title to win in Trentino if it all goes to plan.
CN: What are your thoughts on some of the contenders that you will face in Trentino?
HC: It’s a tough race and there’s three WorldTour teams and they’ve got some of their best riders going. Bardet is down to ride, Landa is there and people like Nibali and his Giro team. It’s a tough race but if you can stay with those riders or be close to them then you have to be satisfied when they’re really going for it for the Giro.
CN: How do you feel when you go up against guys like that?
HC: The excitement of seeing the big stars in the same race has slightly worn off. I’ve been racing almost week in week out with big riders. To be with them getting towards the finish on mountain stages that still feels a little bit strange. You’re usually used to seeing those scenarios playing out on TV. They always look like super heroes when they’re attacking but when you’re there and you can see the attacks from behind it does feel a little bit strange. If I want to progress in the sport, it is something I’ve got to get used to. It’s still nice and it’s enjoyable to be part of that.
CN: Have you noticed yourself getting closer to those guys over the year?
HC: With my age and my progression you find that there are peaks and troughs. There are high points and low points but I am starting to be more consistent. With more race miles in my legs you find that you can stay with them a bit longer or you can follow more moves. I can’t pin point it exactly but with strength and age you can do more in races and feature more.
CN: What does your programme look after Trentino and where are you setting your next targets?
HC: We only have a brief programme for the first half of the season, which is up until June time. For now, I’m focusing on Trentino. Before that we’ll do a one-day race, the Giro dell’ Appeninno. After Trentino we travel to France a couple of days after that to do La Roue Tourangelle. Then a week after that it is the Vuelta a Asturias. Later in the year, I’ll hopefully be doing the Route du Sud (in the French Pyrenees). That’s a race that I’d like to do well in so I think that will be my next target, in the same way as Trentino. It’s a high quality race and it has stages that suit me.
CN: It’s your second season as a professional. You took a different route to many British riders do you feel like that was the right decision for you?
HC: A lot of people want to ride for the best teams in the WorldTour straight away. When I signed for Caja Rural, I didn’t have an offer from a WorldTour team. If I’d had a WorldTour offer maybe I would have taken that, I don’t know. After being in a Pro Continental team for the past two years… it depends on which team, because there are Pro Continental teams that don’t race much in Europe or at all. If you can find one like this team then you can get a good quality race programme. For a young rider it is definitely a step worth taking.
I can’t speak for all teams but this team hasn’t put a huge amount of pressure on the younger riders but at the same time there are opportunities for near enough everyone in the team. There is no closed plan, we always go into races with plans but races often don’t go how you want. If a breakaway slips away and I’m in it, as a 21-year-old, there is no problem with that. You’ve got the older riders on the team that you can learn from. It’s a good environment to be in. You learn a language and you can learn a culture as well, a new cycling scene and you meet new people. The past few years have been a really complete experience for me and I’ve enjoyed it.
CN: Your contract with the team runs out at the end of the year, have you thought about what you will do next year?
HC: At this stage, I don’t know. It’s been a good team for me the past two seasons. It’s still only April, so it’s too early to decide what to do. Hopefully I’ll have a few options to decide from. Whether I move on or stay I don’t know. I’m keeping my options open for next year.
CN: If you were to have an offer from a WorldTour team, do you feel ready to make a step up?
HC: It would depend on a team. There are certain teams that I would say no and there are certain teams that I would say yes to. I don’t know. I’ve still got plenty of races left this season and if I do have more good results this season then I’ll be better able to make a decision.