Robin Carpenter has a clear goal for his first World Championships elite road race on Sunday. The 26-year-old American has his eyes on infiltrating the early breakaway as the peloton makes its way through the hot, possibly windswept desert toward the finishing circuits in Doha, Qatar.
Carpenter, who rides for US Continental team Holowesko-Citadel, is no stranger to making the escape. Since arriving at the Hincapie-backed teams in 2013, Carpenter has been a regular feature in breakaways in US races big and small. He told Cyclingnews in an interview before he left for Qatar that he's ready to throw his hat in the ring when the race hits the desert.
"Since it's my first time, I honestly expect to be put in more of a support role, which is fine," Carpenter said. "I think it would be pretty sweet to end up in whatever breakaway there is, to fly the colours for a while and see how far I can make it. I think it would be cool to make it into that early break.
"Doing senior Worlds will be a big step up for me," he said. "It will be the longest race I've ever done by a healthy margin, and so at that point you have to look for your successes where you can, and to make it into that early move would definitely be one, I think. It would be cool."
"Cool" is not the word of the week so far on Doha, however, as temperatures in the Persian Gulf country have hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and are expected to remain there for the elite men's race on Sunday.
Carpenter, who is originally from Philadelphia but currently lives in San Diego, isn't worried about the heat, however. Before he left for Qatar, the California town near the Mexican border experienced unseasonably warm temperatures that surged past 100.
"I've lived here for two years now, and it hasn't been this hot near the ocean," he said. "It's always hot inland, but at the ocean it's usually 75. It was 105 yesterday and today."
Carpenter is also not overly concerned about the nearly 260km distance the peloton will cover, despite the fact that the race is considerably longer than what he and the other Continental rider on the team, Eric Marcotte, are accustomed to.
"This race is 256km, and I would anticipate that taking probably just under six hours," he said. "We don't usually race for six hours in the domestic peloton, but we did just race for five at Reading  in the heat a couple weeks ago, and I felt great at the end of that.
"So I'm not super worried about the timing of it," he said. "If it was running up closer to seven hours like it has in the past at some of the other venues that are a bit hillier, then I might be a bit worried, but in the end I think it's going to be mostly about how well the guys deal with the heat rather than the overall distance."
Carpenter appears confident and relaxed heading into his first elite men's road race at the Worlds, and given the season he's had so far, the attitude is justified.
He's been on a role since June, when he finished third overall at the Tour de Beauce in Canada. He followed that with a win at the Cascade Cycling Classic in July, when he seized the general classification lead on the final day. In August, he won a stage of the Tour of Utah from a long two-rider breakaway, taking the race lead in the process and wearing yellow for a day.
His biggest career win came last month, however, as he won the overall at the Tour of Alberta, where he finished outside the top 10 during only one stage. His last race was the Reading 120 in Pennsylvania, where he finished fourth as part of the Holowesko-Citadel team's dominance that saw the team claim four of the top five spots.
To win the Tour of Alberta, Carpenter and his team had to defeat defending champion Bauke Mollema and his WorldTour roster. Carpenter pulled it off by one second.
"It's definitely proof that I'm super fit, or at least I was super fit then," he said. "That's just taking a step up in terms of my strength in races, especially in stage races. And, yeah, it definitely makes me confident. One-day racing is a whole different animal than stage racing. Sometimes you have to treat each stage as a one-day race, but, yeah, it definitely makes me confident and makes me want to see what I can do [at Worlds].
"Training has been going well, and I'm just trying to maintain where I am," he said. "But I don't have a lot of expectations going over there. Hopefully, I'll be in the race and not just along for the ride. [The goal is] obviously to finish."
The US team lost the services of Kiel Reijnen, the Trek-Segafredo rider who recently dropped off the roster to be replaced by 21-year-old Alexey Vermeulen, so Marcotte might be the team's best hope for a result in what will likely be a finish contested by a large group. The Jamis rider, who won the US pro road championship in 2014 and the criterium championship in 2015, is not a pure sprinter, but he's proved in the past he can find a way to win fast finishes.
"Eric is more opportunistic," Carpenter said. "He's not like a pure field sprinter. He's got the power, for sure, but when you seem him win it's because he's taken it on at like 500 metres out by himself and sort of surprised people with how long he can hold that power."
The elite men's race is the only one this week that will make the trip through the desert; the rest of the races were limited to the 15.7km circuit on the Pearl in Doha. How Sunday's race will play out is still very much up in the air. One thing that Carpenter does expect in Qatar, however, is the unexpected.
"Everything I've heard about Qatar is that it can be super sketchy and really chaotic, which should be fine but it does make you nervous because it's not straightforward as maybe a normal race would go," Carpenter said. "Crosswinds are always the thing that scare riders the most."