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EF Education-Nippo switch focus to stage wins in Vuelta a España

ESPINOSA DE LOS MONTEROS SPAIN AUGUST 16 A general view of Jonathan Klever Caicedo Cepeda of Ecuador Diego Andres Camargo Pineda of Colombia Simon Carr of United Kingdom Hugh Carthy of United Kingdom Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark Lawson Craddock of United States Jens Keukeleire of Belgium Thomas Scully of New Zealand and Team EF Education Nippo and the peloton while fans cheer during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021 Stage 3 a 2028km stage from Santo Domingo de Silos to Espinosa de los Monteros Picn Blanco 1485m lavuelta LaVuelta21 CapitalMundialdelCiclismo on August 16 2021 in Espinosa de los Monteros Spain Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo MorenoGetty Images
EF Education-Nippo lost leader Hugh Carthy on stage 7 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

After their GC contender Hugh Carthy quit the Vuelta a España on Friday, EF Education-Nippo riders and management have confirmed the team will now switch 100 per cent into stage-hunting mode for the rest of the race.

Third in the 2020 Vuelta, Carthy seemed set to shine after winning the final mountain stage of Spain’s key warm-up race for the Vuelta a España, the Vuelta a Burgos. But instead the British climber lost ground throughout the first week and ended up abandoning.

Riders and management from the team argued on Saturday morning that with their Plan A no longer an option, the  team's focus will be on repeating Magnus Cort’s stage victory on Thursday.

“We came here to help Hugh for GC but obviously he’s gone home now,” the team’s young British climber Simon Carr told Cyclngnews. “So we’ll keep looking for stages. Winning that one with Magnus was really good, and hopefully we can continue like that.”

Carr has already looked over his possible options for stage wins with the team's sports directors, “basically the ones where the break is more likely to go, with some hard climbs but not necessarily summit finishes. Probably about half the stages that are left look good for that, so there’s going to be quite a few options.

“But I’d say going forward we’ll all get used to it and that shouldn’t be a factor again," Carr said. “I don’t know any of the climbs in this part of the Vuelta either as I’ve never raced this far south in Spain. So we’ll just scope them out on Veloviewer and go for it day by day.”

Although Cort’s stage win had eased the pressure already on the team, Carr said, “I think all the riders here are going to be very motivated.”

Subsequent to talking to Cyclingnews, the EF Education racer was unlucky enough to crash early on stage 8, suffering what the official Vuelta medical report described as multiple grazes and bruising. But he was able to complete the stage, albeit finishing in last place, over five minutes down on the winner Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep).

Asked by a small group of reporters on Saturday morning about Carthy’s abandon, team director Juanma Garate said, “I think the stress of the first week cost him a lot of energy and mental energy too. In the last couple of days he was feeling empty, a little bit, and tired.”

On Thursday evening Garate had insisted to Cyclingnews that Carthy’s time losses which left him out of the GC battle were not a true reflection of his form and the director thought he could move into EF’s battle for stages.

But by mid-way Friday they had concluded, Garate said,  that “in these conditions it was better not to stay here. He needs a small break, to go home and recover a little.”

Garate had been optimistic following Burgos about Carthy’s chances, pointing out that “when he won that last stage, he beat [Egan] Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and guys that are fighting here for GC. I think his condition was good. But cycling isn’t just about your legs.”

The relentless series of time losses on the opening three stages was partly to blame for Carthy’s difficult situation. “But it is like it is and we have to accept it,” Garante pointed out.

Carr confirmed that Carthy’s tough first week had made it for the Briton to continue.

“We spoke to him last [Friday] night and he seems OK physically. It was just the accumulation, like Juanma said," Carr stated. “I don’t think he’ll have any trouble coming back and he’ll be coming back stronger as well.” 

And in the meantime, EF Education-Nippo have Vuelta stages to hunt for.

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.