How do you solve a mystery like Hugh Carthy?

A deep dive inside the mind of the 26-year-old Prestonian, one of only four Brits who rode this year's Tour de France

Hugh Carthy (Getty)

It's your second race back after lockdown, how was that period for you?

"Lockdown was alright, yeah," Hugh Carthy tells me at the Critérium du Dauphiné, building form ahead of his debut Tour de France.

Your first Tour de France coming up, you excited for that?

"Yeah, excited, never done it before so I'm ready. Looking forward to it."

Hugh Carthy appears to be a man of few words, a rider content to let his legs do most of the talking.

This usually wouldn't be a problem, except there are only four British riders at the 2020 French Grand Tour, and this British cycling magazine would be one reporter lighter should I return home with only this interaction from the first Prestonian to ride the Grand Boucle.

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Carthy is lanky at 6ft 4, hair cut short and sporting a simple hoop in his left ear, visually giving him a touch more intrigue than your average glazed and mechanised member of the peloton. He's also far from being WorldTour cannon fodder, finishing 11th at the 2019 Giro d'Italia.

He's only posted 20 pictures on his Instagram and doesn't have a Twitter account. While other British riders endlessly share every detail of their lives with their thousands of followers, Carthy seems to keep himself to himself. It's clear that to find out who he is, we're going to have to do more than simply ask him.

"I’d say that’s pretty accurate," says Charly Wegelius, Carthy's sports director at EF Pro Cycling, of whether his rider prefers to let his legs speak for him most of the time. "I think he likes to do things his own way. He’s not very interested in what the outside world is saying, but privately he’s got a pretty good sense of humour."

A sense of humour he's unwilling to share with the outside world, in this economy?!

The two main recipients of Carthy's laughs, at least during the Tour, are said to be team-mate Tejay van Garderen and EF's British chiropractor Matt Rabin.

Come on then, what exactly does the Hugh Carthy comedy special entail?

"Being a Brit, and him being the only British rider on this team, we naturally gravitate towards each other because we share that sense of humour," Rabin says. "But his ability to transcend that sense of humour amongst some of the other riders has been quite interesting and entertaining.

"He’s got a particularly nice relationship with Tejay, they have a really good bond because Tejay gets on at him for his Britishness, and he gets on at Tejay for his Americanisms."

"Pronunciation, spelling, stuff like that," Van Garderen says of the Anglo-American relations on the tie-dye team. "Sometimes I have to remind him that we won the war, and that he should stay in his lane, that we run things now and he's just gonna have to get used to it.

Hugh Carthy climbing the Puy Mary at the 2020 Tour de France (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

"All joking aside, he's a great guy. I love hanging out with him. He definitely is a stereotypical Brit. When I ask him 'what kind of food do you like?' He says steak and kidney pie and I'm like, great, let me come over and try some of that.

"He has that sense of humour that really pushes your buttons, I cannot stay around him without just cracking up laughing all the time. Sometimes he's very dry and he always likes to be the contrarian. If everyone says 'this is great' he'll be the first to say 'nah it's s**t'.

"If everyone's talking about what their least favourite day in this Tour was, which was of course stage one with all those crashes, he'll be the first to be like 'that was all right, wasn't it?' He likes to go against the grain. You've just got to laugh at stuff like that but it definitely boosts morale to have him around."

From Peter Kay to Plato, Rabin adds that when Carthy isn't joking around he's contemplative.

"I think he’s very introspective, he’s a deep thinker. He’s quite emotive as well, in a range of what that can manifest itself as," Rabin shares. 

"I’ve spent a lot of time with Hugh during this Tour and very rarely do we talk about cycling. It's nice that he has a lot of interests in other sports as well."

What other interests?

"He loves what I would consider pub sports. He loves his darts, snooker, boxing, and I think it was at the Dauphiné he’d go back to his room and be sending me messages like ‘ah Matt, you've got to tune into BBC2 right now’ because he’d be watching hours of the snooker.

"There aren’t so many Brits in their mid-twenties who are bang into the snooker and literally staying up to watch the final frames of the semi-finals and messaging me saying I’ve got to tune in.

"He has a nice, broad interest in things other than cycling. It can get a bit much if you don’t put the bike away, you know what I mean?"

Between Wegelius, Rabin and Van Garderen, the same phrases keep cropping up during this indirect interrogation of Carthy's character.

"Comfortable in his own skin", "stays true to himself", "not living for anyone else's expectations". Or, as Wegelius puts it, "he's maybe the oldest 26-year-old I know."

"He doesn't want to put on a fake persona just for the public," Van Garderen continues. "If he knows you, he'll let you in and let you know who he is. But he doesn't feel the need to signal it to the rest of the world.

"Sometimes, I think him opening up a little bit wouldn't be a bad thing, just to kind of let people see who Hugh Carthy is. Because I think if he did that, he'd find that a lot of people would really like him."

Armed with this new knowledge, it's time to go ask a Tour de France rider about snooker.

"It's quite relaxing, methodical. I watch it, kind of trying to predict the shots and then seeing what shot they actually play and how bad you are at selecting shots," Hugh Carthy is away, having finally been asked a question that's not about bike racing.

"I like the players as well, they all seem down to Earth. One day I dream...well...not really a dream, but one day when I've finished racing I want to go and watch the snooker World Championships. Last year, when we were in China at the Tour of Guangxi, a few weeks earlier the Shanghai Masters had been on, so I missed that one. But it would be nice to go and watch a big tournament like that."

Quite a lane switch from cycling up stunning Alpine mountains to darkened rooms where white-gloved men arrange coloured balls neatly on a felt table.

"Sometimes you wish you could be a snooker player when you've fallen off and are sliding all over the road," Carthy says. "At those points, you think 'yeah, It'd be nice to be a snooker player'. Each sport has its own ups and downs. Cycling's a pretty healthy sport, snooker is played in dark rooms and involves a lot of travel."

The aforementioned contrarian in the 26-year-old's character then comes to light, saying supporting Ronnie O'Sullivan is a bit like being David Beckham fan, preferring the likes of Neil Robertson and "rough around the edges" players such as Stephen Maguire: "He looks like he's up for a fight all the time, punching the table and things."

After another tale from Carthy of how he stayed up with team-mate Julius van den Berg until 1am watching the darts on Sky Sports during a training camp in Spain last year, it's time to talk about his debut Tour de France.

"It's been hard, it's been demanding," he says. "You've got 170 of the best riders in the world who are on top form, any normal peloton you only have half that amount, it's just been a bit of a pressure cooker."

Despite this, Carthy was hovering around the upper quartile of the GC, eventually finishing 37th overall, two hours and 20 minutes behind Tadej Pogačar, the second-highest ranked Brit after Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). He said he's been enjoying himself for the most part, taking a positive, open-minded approach into competing against the best in the world.

"Even now with limited fans you still line up for the stage and the flag drops and you feel that this is a big race. I've been enjoying it, though, enjoying every stage.

"I've been in Grand Tours before where you settle into survival mode and the whole thing drags, so a few years ago I said no more survival mode, take every day as it comes, enjoy every stage and then it passes a lot quicker.

"And if you're in that mode where you're looking for the race, then the race comes to you as well."

This prophecy came true on stage 13, as Carthy helped drag team-mate Dani Martínez up the road and into the break, setting the Colombian up for the stage win

Hugh Carthy covered up at the 2020 Tour de France (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images,)

"It was a nice day to be out front with Dani then winning the stage, nice to contribute to that," Carthy said. "It was well-received back at home, my friends and family enjoyed seeing me at the front in the biggest bike race in the world, it doesn't get much better than that."

Carthy has another year left to run on his contract with EF and looks to be developing into a rider who could one day achieve a result in a big race.

"If I'm going to make a comparison, he reminds me a lot of Ryder Hesjedal," Van Garderen says of his British team-mate. "Obviously Hesjedal won a Giro, won stages of everything, was a really great rider. You just look at his body type and the way he sits on the bike and I see a lot of similarities.

"I'd say the sky's the limit for Hugh I think. Given the right circumstances, he could find himself on the podium of a Grand Tour, or in a winning break. If it's a mountainous day, you give him a couple of metres up the road and you're gonna have a hard time getting him back"

I wonder what Carthy's response would be if I told him that Van Garderen thinks he could potentially win a Grand Tour? Would we be the grateful recipients of a witty retort, or would he politely brush the question off, preferring to hide himself and any personal ambition away from where anyone can find it?

Instead, I thank Hugh for his time. He starts clipping back in, ready to head off to the start line for another day at the Tour de France.

But then, he leans back across the barrier of the mixed zone.

"You know who else likes snooker?"

I shake my head.

"Thomas De Gendt."

And that's it. Hugh Carthy rides off for another stage of the Tour de France thinking about snooker.

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