Carpenter continues upward trajectory with Tour of Alberta win

24-year-old Holowesko-Citadel rider hangs on to beat 2015 champion Bauke Mollema by one second

Tour of Alberta overall winner Robin Carpenter had a lot to worry about during Monday's final stage in Edmonton.

The 24-year-old Holowesko-Citadel rider went into the final day's circuit race with Tour de France podium contender and Classica San Sebastian winner Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) trailing him by just one second.

Mollema had 2012 Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal in his corner, along with Frank Schleck and a strong, experienced team, but Carpenter said one of his biggest worries was simply to avoid disappointing his own Continental squad, which he said went into the stage with more confidence in him than he had in himself.

"It was funny," Carpenter told Cyclingnews after the final stage in Edmonton. "Most of the pressure I think was heaped on by myself. The team believed in me, so there was not a ton of pressure in the usual sense. Mostly it was pressure in that they believed in me more than I did, and I was like, ‘Man, you shouldn't be so confident.'"

But at the end of the day, Carpenter expertly relied on his team to keep him safe throughout the day and fresh for the end of the race when he needed to take his fate into his own hands.

"I think I dealt with it alright," he said. "I tried to stay cool and not panic, trusting the team and trusting the riders to come back to you if you got broken up when there are accelerations. They did believe in me more than I believed in myself, and that's a good lesson to take away."

Carpenter also took away the yellow jersey from the five-day UCI 2.1 race that featured talented squads from WorldTour teams Trek-Segafredo and Cannondale-Drapac, along with a host of top-shelf North American domestic teams that were also hungry for a top result.

Carpenter took the jersey from Rally Cycling's Evan Huffman during Sunday's 12.1km stage 4 time trial, but Mollema fired a shot across his bow by winning the stage in impressive fashion. Nevertheless, Carpenter took confidence from his own and his teammates' performances in the short race against the clock.

"Yesterday we had four guys in the top 12, and I think that was a harbinger of things to come today with how strong the team could be on the front," he said. "We had a couple of good, strong guys who are strong time trialists in Mac Brennan and Andz Flaksis, and a smart guy in Oscar Clark, who always knows when to let the break go and when to work hard and when not to go hard, how to save energy and be in control."

Carpenter's team kept him safe and protected throughout the week after he made it into the stage 1 breakaway that left less than a dozen riders truly in contention for the general classification win. Then on the finishing circuits in Drayton Valley during stage 3, he joined Huffman in a late two-man escape that further separated them from the other GC contenders.

On Monday, with a breakaway up the road swallowing up the time bonuses, Carpenter only needed to keep an eye on a handful of riders in the final laps, with Mollema at the top of the list.

When Trek went to the front on the second-to-last lap and drilled the pace in hopes of launching Mollema on the short, steep climb near the start-finish, Carpenter took notice. He survived that skirmish and took note of the tactic for their return on the finale.

"That actually had me a little worried, because I thought they would try it again with one lap to go," he said. "But then I got a great leadout from my team, and I decided I wasn't going to wait for anyone to come over the top when it got steep. So I went myself when one of the Trek riders went, just making sure that I was the first one up the hill and wasn't going to get gapped off. I got to the hill first wheel or so, and then I knew that we probably had it in the bag."

Carpenter definitely had it in the bag by the time they arrived at the finish, crossing the line in the field sprint in ninth place, nine spots ahead of Mollema. Axeon

Hagens Berman's Colin Joyce, who started the day 22 seconds down, finished third in the bunch kick and collected a four-second time bonus, but it wasn't enough to challenge Carpenter.

The win in Alberta is another step for Carpenter, who won a stage at the 2014 USA Pro Challenge and more recently last month at the Tour of Utah, where he wore the yellow jersey for a day. Carpenter also won the overall in July at the Cascade Cycling Classic to add another line to his national-level race palmares.

It has been a remarkable season for Carpenter, who credited his growth to a number of factors, including finishing college and moving away from the frigid winters of his native Northeastern US to sunny San Diego.

"I think that's shown over the last few seasons," he said of his development and growing maturity. "I've grown a lot in terms of my time trialing. When you pair that with a little bit more savvyness that it usually takes to get in a breakaway, then you come out with a solid GC rider for stage races that are more middling and not super climbing focused, but also not totally flat."

Carpenter's next move will be to compete at the Reading 120, and he said he plans on going to New Zealand's Tour of the Southland as "kind of a tourist." But Carpenter said he doesn't yet have a contract in place for 2017.

"Nobody has called me, but I'm not too worried about it," he said. "I really love what I do now. I've said before that I'm mostly just happy to get paid to ride my bike, wherever that is. I love my team and I have a great time with my teammates, so we'll see what happens. If the right opportunity comes around, then who knows, but that's about all I can say." 

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