McCarthy believes teammate Majka is maturing into a genuine GC contender

Rafal Majka is brimming with confidence about the challenge he can throw down in the mountains at the Giro d'Italia.

So says Australian teammate Jay McCarthy who also hopes to make the early breaks to be in position to help Majka, as he did in the penultimate stage of last year's Vuelta a Espana in which Majka secured his first grand tour podium finish.

"I think he is in serious shape and that he is very confident coming into the hillier stages," McCarthy (Tinkoff), 23, told Cyclingnews when asked how Majka, 26, was feeling as the crucial mountains approached in his ninth career grand tour.

"I think he can make a big difference in the steep climbs.

"He's at the level and with the confidence he has coming into this Giro I think we're going to see a lot more from Rafa."

Majka's previous finishes in the Giro are a sixth place overall in 2014 and a seventh in 2013 – and in both editions he enjoyed spell sin the white young riders' jersey.

Majka's two Tour de France starts have ended with a 28th overall finish and a stage 11 victory last year, and 44th place plus wins in stages 14 and 17 and the King of the Mountains category in 2014. Whereas at the Vuelta, Majka finished third last year, after a 19th place in 2013, 32nd place in 2012 and a withdrawal in 2011 when he he made his grand tour debut.

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Majka "can take a lot on his shoulders"

After Wednesday's 11th stage of this Giro - 227 km from Modena to Asolo - Majka was sixth overall at 2 minutes 1 second to Luxembourg leader Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep).

McCarthy has ridden his two past grand tours with Majka – the 2014 Giro when he placed third in the 208km 17th stage from Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto by making the winning break, and last year's Vuelta in which he made a lead group of 40 on the penultimate 175.8km 20th stage from San Lorenzo de El Escorial – Cercedilla to be in position to help Majka whose ride that day saw him rise from fourth to third overall.

McCarthy believes that Majka is evolving into a better leader with every grand tour he rides. "I think he started young becoming a 'GC' [general classification] hopeful. And of course, you can't learn it over night. The way I see it, for how young he is, he can take a lot on his shoulders and he has his head screwed on and I think knows where he wants to go.

"In the race, we all know what we have to do. He tells us if he needs us to do something straight away; but he doesn't stick to himself away from racing. In the bus we have a lot of fun."

McCarthy and his future

McCarthy, with Tinkoff since 2013, hopes that his eagerness to get into a break can also serve his interest too, so long as it does not hinder Majka. McCarthy showed in the 2014 Giro and last year's Vuelta what he can do when given chance.

He has also shown good form this season with his fifth place at the Australian road titles in January, and victory in stage two of the Tour Down Under in which he also wore the leader's jersey for a day before finishing in fourth overall.

"I like to race aggressively," McCarthy said. "Rafa is our big goal, but the team has given me plenty of opportunities to slip into a breakaway

"We have to protect 'Rafa,' but I think that it's not a bad idea if me - or one of the other medium climbers we have on the team - do try [to get in to a break] and get up the road.

"There could be a chance that the other teams may not chase it back and the 'GC' guys will be watching each other.

"But if they do want to race and we have someone out there then we can be there to help Rafa in that sense."

Asked if he has become better at reading the moves and knowing which ones are likely to be the decisive ones, McCarthy said: "You get better, but sometimes it can take a little bit of luck. Some guys think they can see it all, but at the end of the day if the peloton doesn't want that group to go then they won't let it go. I think you've got to pick the days."

This Giro is also a prime opportunity for McCarthy to showcase his wares and secure a team for next year with him being off contract and the future of the Tinkoff team uncertain as it continues it search for a new sponsor after owner Oleg Tinkoff said he will pull out his sponsorship after this season.

Pressed on his contractual future, McCarthy said: "Not knowing if the team is going on, I have to start looking [for] next year. A pretty good start to the year helps. There are a couple of teams interested. At the moment I'm seeing what happens and waiting to see what happens with this team."

He also said the Tinkoff team's uncertain future has not had: "too much of an affect on the team … At the end of the day everyone just wants to try to do their best. I haven't felt like there have been many issues where the team is worried abut themselves more than the team. We have come together well."

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Rupert Guinness first wrote on cycling at the 1984 Victorian road titles in Australia from the finish line on a blustery and cold hilltop with a few dozen supporters. But since 1987, he has covered 26 Tours de France, as well as numerous editions of the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana, classics, world track and road titles and other races around the world, plus four Olympic Games (1992, 2000, 2008, 2012). He lived in Belgium and France from 1987 to 1995 writing for Winning Magazine and VeloNews, but now lives in Sydney as a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media) and contributor to Cyclingnews and select publications.

An author of 13 books, most of them on cycling, he can be seen in a Hawaiian shirt enjoying a drop of French rosé between competing in Ironman triathlons.