Honest and demanding, Hugh Carthy's a little dissatisfied but definitely not stressed with his form: 'I'll show up when it counts'
The Preston-born rider is aiming to improve on his 8th place at last year's Giro
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Hugh Carthy is as honest off the bike as he is on it.
Take his little dig on stage three of the Volta a Catalunya, or his infiltration of the breakaway on stage four.
"It was alright," he reflects on his day out front to Cycling Weekly, before revealing that "it wasn't the intention."
Quite how someone can accidentally find themselves in a breakaway on a Queen stage is a difficult one to comprehend, until you understand that really it was all part of Carthy's game plan to elicit the best out of himself, to really find out where his form is at. He's a man in constant demand of himself, and doesn't allow himself to get off the hook easily.
"I was in the right place, and there were similar riders to me on a similar time so I jumped in," he says.
"I've not been racing, and at La Molina [on stage three] I could have been a bit more conservative, but I was happy to test myself, see exactly where I am rather than hiding and getting the wrong idea."
The Lancastrian, who finished third at the 2020 Vuelta a España, resumes the point later on when discussing the requirement of showing yourself when the big names like Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič are absent from the startlist.
"The races are important now because it's stuff you can't do at home," he explains. "The speed and stuff, you've got to come to races to get that. It's difficult nowadays to hide at home. To turn up to races, you've got to be race ready. That's why we're here."
There was an opportunity to impress in northern Spain this week without the Two Slovenians. Is it a relief to race without their presence?
"You see with UAE now - Pogačar isn't here, but they've got three or four riders chomping at the bit to win," he says, a reminder that stage four victor João Almeida is leading the GC heading into the final two stages. "That's just how it is.
"I don't think you can be put off by it. Even if you go to a race where some of the big, big riders are, you still have the opportunity to do something - it's not a closed book. But, yeah, the races now are more important than ever."
Carthy is young at 27, but has been on the pro circuit for eight seasons. He's noticed changes. "We go so fast, and so hard, the style of racing is different," he says. "It's changing all the time, younger riders bringing a new style of racing. I've noticed it."
Then he remembers he's perhaps straying into hyperbole. He needs to come down a peg. "But then maybe you think you've noticed it," he ponders, remembering his approach of not over-playing a theme. "I don't know. Ten, 20 years ago people probably said the same thing, so maybe's nothing changed."
The Briton is dissatisfied with his early-season form, but doesn't see any merit in worrying about it, nor does he see any reason to be stressed that he won't be at the desired level come May's Giro d'Italia.
It's just bike racing, he reasons. Sometimes you're at where you want to be, sometimes you're not.
Illness is the main culprit for racing just five days before this week's race, but rather than sulking, he is his typical self, putting positives on the situation that aren't just platitudes but a real sense of his personality and approach.
"It's that time of year when you're reading to push on with training, but it's was OK. I missed a couple of weeks, but I had everything under control," he says.
Catalunya hasn't gone to plan, but try find even one sinew of stress on his face. "I was aiming for something better, but the form's not quite there yet. But, no, I'm feeling happy - it's a big improvement from where I was a few weeks ago."
>>> How do you solve a mystery like Hugh Carthy?
Carthy will race the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and then the Tour of the Alps before his fifth dig at the Giro. He's analysed the state of the peloton and is bullish of his form and his chances.
"We're not a million miles away," he says. "Now, everyone is going so well, and five percent makes a huge difference - it can be the difference between losing a minute and winning a stage."
Carthy can be a man of few words, but every sentence that leaves his mouth is loaded with intrigue and offers an engaging window into his thoughts. He doesn't waste energy, whether through talking or riding a bike. He's in control.
"I'm not disheartened," he concludes. "I'm still going to be showing up later in the year when it counts."
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Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.
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