A breakthrough performance for Britain's Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) in the Volta a Catalunya has seen the 21-year-old move into ninth overall and take command of the Best Young Rider's competition.
Tenth on the first critical Pyrenean stage of La Molina then 11th at the much harder stage to Port Ainé, Carthy - should he hold on over the final two stages - is en route to what could be his first top 10 performance at UCI WorldTour level.
A winner of the Tour of Korea in his first full year as a pro with Rapha Condor JLT in 2014, Carthy then signed for Caja Rural-Seguros RGA in 2015, taking ninth overall in the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. Now, aged 21 and the youngest rider in the Caja Rural-Seguros RGA roster, Carthy is currently the best placed of the Spanish team in the Volta a Catalunya.
"It's all coming together," Carthy told Cyclingnews as he waited to go onto the podium after the stage 5 finish in Valls.
"I was a bit disappointed in [his previous race] the Vuelta a Andalucia, I was looking to do well there, but I was ill. But I got through all right, had a bit of a break, and then I really trained hard for this, so it's satisfying to see the work's paid off."
Mountain racing has always been his strong point, as proved by a third place in one of the USA Pro Challenge's hardest stages last year. But as Carthy says, "I was pleased there [in Colorado], but this is another level, this is by far the best I've ever performed so I'm more than happy."
Asked how he rates his chances of keeping the Best Young Rider's jersey through to Barcelona and holding onto that top 10 placing overall, Carthy says "you've got to be optimistic. There's some very good riders right behind me though that I can't discount until the race is over. [Rigoberto] Urán [10th] is pretty close in the GC, he went over the top of the last climb as the first of the peloton so I was paying attention to that and then it all came together in the bunch on the descent.
"But I'm pleased. This is one of the biggest races of the year for the team, and for them to be protecting me, the youngest rider on the team, it's nice - I've got to make the most of it."
He had not, he said, had protected status going into Catalunya. "It's not like that in the team, it's not that we wing it, but we've come here with a strong team and we've got various objectives I'm just pleased how it's worked out, but there's two tough stages to come, specially the last one. We'll take it day by day, rest now and fight again."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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