Jay McCarthy had never led a race as a professional before Thursday’s stage 3 of the Tour Down Under. While the 23-year-old ultimately lost the ochre jersey to stage winner Simon Gerrans in Campbelltown, the Tinkoff rider demonstrated he has the capabilities to handle the responsibilities and pressure of leading a WorldTour race.
Fourth place behind Gerrans, Rohan Dennis (BMC) and Michael Woods (Cannondale) meant McCarthy missed the bonus seconds on the line and consequently now sits second on general classification three seconds in arrears.
“Yeah, a little bit, of course,” McCarthy said when asked if he was disappointed to lose the leader’s jersey. “The team worked really hard today and I was in the right position but I probably should have been a little further up in the sprint and I didn’t judge the final enough and got a little boxed in. Gerro was smart enough to come from behind me and I wasn’t quite quick enough to get back around. It was good day by the boys and I think we controlled it really well.”
While solo leader Laurens De Vreese (Astana) gained the maximum three seconds available at both intermediate sprint points, McCarthy picked up two valuable seconds. While McCarthy was playing the tactical game that Orica-GreenEdge favoured on stage 2, Gerrans decided he wouldn’t contest the second sprint to save his legs for the Corkscrew.
On the fast technical run into the climb along the Gorge, Tinkoff forced a split in the peloton, briefly catching out Gerrans. When the peloton arrived at the base of the climb, though, the major GC men were front and present. McCarthy then found himself on the back foot as first Richie Porte (BMC) then Woods and Sergio Henao (Team Sky) attacked to ride clear. McCarthy explained that with the descent to come, he was confident he would still feature in the finale.
“Definitely going across the top with Gerro and Richie and Pozzovivo, I thought there’s a good chance we’ll be able to take the on the descent and I didn’t really have to open up much on the descent expect for when Rohan went with two kilometres to go,” he said.
“I decided that I’d shut that down and maybe that was a little bit of what cost me in the end but at the end of the day, I think I am still up there with a good shot and we don’t have the jersey tomorrow to worry about and the extra pressure that comes with that so the rest of the boys who had to work today will be able to look after me and support me more for the final.”
While stage 4 with its sprint finish in Victor Harbor is on paper a straightforward affair, the possibility of crosswinds means it will be tense day in the saddle. The GC should be decided by the Willunga Hill queen stage on Saturday, however, where McCarthy will look to regain ochre.
“If I am still climbing with them over the top of Corkscrew, Willunga is still a very hard climb and we do it twice but it’s not quite as steep as the Corkscrew today so I think I am still in with a shot for it and I‘ll fight for it.”