After a difficult end to the season in 2021, Briton Hugh Carthy found himself back in the thick of the action at the Volta a Catalunya on Wednesday when he tried to chase down stage winner Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën) at the summit finish of La Molina.
As the peloton hesitated behind the Australian, the EF Education-EasyPost rider was one of the few men to try and regain ground on O'Connor. Carthy's attack did not work out and the terrain that followed, with a long downhill midway on the climb, made catching O'Connor even more difficult.
But as Carthy told Cyclingnews after the stage, he so far feels more than satisfied with how his form is looking in the race, even if riders like O'Connor proved unreachable on Wednesday.
"He was extremely strong on that climb and clever too. Credit where's credit due, he avoided all the messing around [behind], so good for him," Carthy said at the finish.
"It was a hard climb, Esteban [Chaves] went and I tried to go over the top but I wasn't punchy enough."
In the moments that followed, Carthy tried to up the pace in the group to bring back O'Connor, "so I rode a little bit but then we hit the downhill and that was it then."
As Chaves explained afterwards, "we were all gambling a bit that O'Connor would run out of gas."
After Wednesday's intense round of skirmishing, the key stage for the overall is clearly set to be Thursday, with a 14-kilometre ascent to Boí Taüll. But Carthy is not ruling out more GC action in Barcelona's Montjuïc Park on the final day, either.
Talking to Cyclingnews earlier in the race, Carthy said he was confident that he had been getting into the swing of things after a rocky start to the year and the results from the first three stages in the Volta a Catalunya certainly seem to confirm that.
"I'm happy where I'm at, I had a few hiccups early in the year with illness, a couple of minor things and I missed some training at the first training camp, but I'm on track now," Carthy said earlier this week.
"It wasn't the best way to start the year, but better now than three months down the line. I'm better than I was a few weeks ago, not too bad. So, onwards and upwards."
Carthy will once again make the Giro d'Italia his big target of the season, where he will be headlining the EF Education-EasyPost squad alongside Chaves.
"It's an exciting year, there are lot of new teammates in the team, a good atmosphere this season," he said. "We've had some bad luck with illness in the team, but hopefully we'll hit a good patch. I'm ready to kick into gear.
"The big goals are still a bit further down the line, but every race counts now to get good for the Giro."
Before then, Carthy's race program will be the Circuite de la Sarthe and then the Tour of the Alps. But first, in any case, there's still four more days of racing in Catalunya as well.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.