When then-stagiaire Brendan Canty (Drapac) performed strongly on the Abu Dhabi Tour’s summit finish at Jebel Hafeet last October, it was tempting to downplay the Australian’s display by crediting it simply to a relative lack of motivation from more the more illustrious names in the field.
An eighth-place finish on Green Mountain on stage 4 of the Tour of Oman on Friday, however, was something of a confirmation for Canty, who is in his first full year as a professional and only his third as a bike rider of any description.
"The stagiaire ride I did with Drapac at Abu Dhabi was my first chance to ride like that against WorldTour riders and I took a lot from that," Canty told Cyclingnews in Yiti on Saturday. "Not too many are aware of who I am or what I’ve done, being relatively new to the sport, but things have just been improving constantly so it’s exciting to see where things head in the future."
As calling cards go, Canty’s showing on Green Mountain was a memorable one. The 23-year-old hung tough in the leading group as eventual stage winner Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana team laid down an infernal rhythm early on, and was one of just three riders still on the Sicilian’s wheel entering the final two kilometres.
Although Canty was eventually distanced under the impetus of Romain Bardet’s attacking on the approach to the summit, he finished eighth on the stage, just 45 seconds down, enough to move into the white jersey of best young rider. He finished safely in the front group to defend that jersey on Saturday’s penultimate stage and – barring mishap in the final leg to Matrah Corniche – will finish the race in seventh place overall.
"The team did a really good job of getting me right up to the front and I think I was in fourth or fifth wheel when we hit the climb and that saves a huge amount of energy because you don’t have to surge past riders who get dropped," Canty said of his Green Mountain showing.
"When there was only about four of us left at one point, it was unreal and I’m thinking ‘Crap, I’m still riding with these guys’ and then Romain Bardet attacked and I got dropped, but I started riding my way back up again. It was just really excited for me to be part of the race."
Riding in such exalted company can often prove daunting for such a callow rider, but Canty seemed to be inspired rather than inhibited by the riders around him on the upper slopes of Green Mountain.
"You dream about trying to beat guys like that in a stage like that, so to be in that scenario, it’s incredible," he said. "It’s always a surprise I guess when you race against the best riders in the world and you’re slightly competitive against them. I haven’t raced too much at this level so my expectations of what I should be able to achieve is a bit of an unknown at the moment."
Canty’s performance is all the more remarkable given the brevity of his cycling career to date. A football and basketball player in his youth, the Melbourne native took up running at the age of 18, then switched to triathlon a couple of years later before finally opting for cycling. His first race was in October 2013, but after scarcely two years of racing in the National Road Series in Australia, he is trading pedal strokes with a former Tour de France winner in Oman.
"It’s all very new to me at the moment. This is my first year as a professional and my third year of racing a bike, so it’s all positive things at this point in time," said Canty, whose lone setback to date, it seems, was a low-key showing at the Tour de San Luis last month, though a brace of crashes provided considerable mitigation.
"To come here and do well again is good for the confidence," said Canty, who will hope to reproduce his Middle East form when he makes his European debut later in the spring. "The team’s got a lot of races in Asia but I think I’ll be sticking mainly to Europe. There’s a lot of big climbs in some of the races we might be doing there."