While the focus on the British charge for the Tour de France’s maillot jaune will soon be dominating the headlines, one rising star has already pulled on a yellow jersey this summer.
Victory at the Tour de Korea was, by his own admission, the biggest win to date for 19-year-old Brit Hugh Carthy (Rapha Condor-JLT), as he followed in team-mate Mike Cuming’s tracks to win the demanding UCI 2.1-classified race.
The British team picked up three stage wins in Korea, including Carthy’s success on the stage seven summit finish which propelled him into the race lead.
And having held his advantage on the final day, Carthy admitted he was delighted with how the race had panned out.
“It’s pretty big,” he told RoadCyclingUK. “It’s by far the biggest win of my career so far.
“It was pretty difficult. We took a strong team, I suppose. There were a few of us capable of winning overall and all of us were strong enough to help out the one who could do it.
“We knew we had a good chance. The team knows the race as well, and we’ve done it quite a few times now so we’ve got the measure of it.”
Unlike the sometimes predictable nature of similar races in Europe – break goes clear, favourites catch it, big finale – the forever undulating parcours in Korea make mounting a GC bid a tricky affair.
Carthy, as a first-year pro, was part of the team which helped set up Cuming’s win 12 months ago, excelling in the team time trial before Cuming and Richard Handley finished the job off.
Harnessing the benefit of that experience, Carthy finished third on stage three and stayed nicely placed overall before what proved to be a race-winning climb into Pyeongchang.
Reflecting on the race, Carthy said: “The most difficult aspect of it is the other riders. The way it’s raced is pretty aggressive. There’s not really a pattern to it – just attack after attack after attack.
“It’s difficult to follow the right things, but you just have to watch out for the people who usually come out on top. If you do that, you’re generally OK so we had to keep our guard always and be prepared to get stuck in, which we did.
“It’s pretty important to have done [the race] last year. I got the experience, I knew what to expect and it didn’t worry me too much. I just had to get out there and get it done.”
And ‘get out there and get it done’ is certainly what he did, even if it underplays the the achievement.
“I rode well all week,” Carthy admitted. “Every day I made the right selections and didn’t lose any time.
“Stage three I managed to get in the break and make up a bit of time which was crucial. In that kind of race, a close-fought race where there is really only one big stage where you can gain time, you have to grab the seconds where you can.
“That was crucial and then, when I was sitting in third place, I was in the perfect position really. The pressure was on another team to keep the race together and guard the jersey and it allowed us to sit, and while not relaxing it took the pressure off us.
“We had the yellow jersey for one stage with Rich [Handley] but he lost it unfortunately. After that, though, it took the pressure off us which went in our favour. It meant that we could just focus on the one day where I was going to gain time. It worked out well.”
That one stage, the ascent into Pyeongchang, saw the day conclude with a grueling 7.3km ascent of the Jin-Gogea – a climb with an average gradient of 8.7 per cent and sections towards the peak much steeper still.
But Carthy, at this point in the white jersey of best young rider, attacked on the steepest ramps, shelling his rivals one-by-one before soloing to victory, and earning a precious 19-second advantage in the process.
“The ascent into Pyeongchang was good climbing,” he explained. “It was about half-an-hour in length. It started off pretty steady from a long valley and then grew steeper and steeper.
“Toward the top it was pretty steep, there were quite a few hairpins and it was a good climb – one you could get stuck into if you could find your rhythm early on. You could attack and distance people quite easily on some of the tough gradients, I found. It was good.”
It ensured he left Korea with the yellow jersey, following up a similarly impressive showing at the Tour of Japan in May, where he bagged the best young rider and king of the mountains titles.
And Carthy admitted that, while he hopes he will be able to replicate his form in Europe too, the terrain over in Asia suits his riding style.
“I’m not too sure what it as about the races in Asia really,” he said. “I’ve not done too many races in Europe so it’s difficult to say how I’d go there, but the races are tough over in Asia.
“It’s pretty arduous but the terrain suits me. It’s mountainous, with hilly and long stages with a lot of climbing. You very often got a small group, which has been whittled down, and you have to work from there. I like that sort of racing, it’s a real tough day out.”
At just 19, the future certainly looks bright for Carthy – who started last year’s Tour of Britain but crashed out early on – as he bids to find similar success in Europe.
For now, however, the teenage ace is staying well grounded – comparing his win to his professional stage racing debut in South Africa’s Mzansi Tour.
“It’s a similar kind of experience to starting off at the Mzansi Tour last year,” he explained. “It’s just a little bit further down the line.
“It’s opened my eyes now and made me realise I’m capable of winning big international races. It’s confirmed to me what people believed and said I was capable of.
“Now I’ve got the results, I think it helps my confidence more than anything. It’s now just about working hard and carrying on doing what I’ve done.
“I’m obviously doing something right so if I keep doing that, hopefully I can pick up some more good results along the way. There’s still a lot of room for improvement in my racing so there’s no reason why I can’t win some more races.”
Next on the agenda for Carthy are the nationals, where he will compete in the time trial and road race against an all-star cast which includes Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.
With his tail up, however, Carthy is in buoyant mood – particularly with Rapha Condor JLT having enjoyed a successful season to date away from Asia, too.
“It’s been perfect really,” he admitted. “We’ve got some pretty important people at the front of the team like John [Herety], Kristian [House] and Tom [Southam].
“Last year the team didn’t have the same depth as this year. We brought in some more riders, which has helped a lot, and we got some good results early on as a team.
“I think that’s helped bring the best out of everyone really, everyone’s gained an extra gear in confidence knowing that we can as a team get these big results. It’s snowballed since.”
For Carthy, there’s no reason to believe that snowball effect can’t continue. Remember the name.