Hugh Cathy looking for progress and fun at Vuelta after strong Giro and Tour de Suisse showing

Hugh Carthy knows this year’s Vuelta a Espana is another crucial stepping stone in his development as a pro racer.

A strong showing at the Giro, where he just missed out on a place in the top ten, was followed by a stage win and the mountains classification at the Tour de Suisse.

But those headline successes don’t tell the full story.

The Preston-born EF Education First rider has featured strongly in most of the stage races he’s started this year and either side of the second rest day at the Giro he helped animate the race, finishing fourth and fifth in the process.

He’s expecting the Vuelta to be tough but is relishing the chance of working for EF’s leader Rigoberto Uran while also having the opportunity to again show what he’s capable when the route heads into the hills.

We caught up with the 25-year-old as he made the long coach transfer to Thursday’s team presentation in Torrevieja.

It’s been a few years since your last Vuelta. How much are you looking forward to it?

I’m really looking forward to getting going and into the race. Spain was where my professional career began and I have close friends here that continue to support me.

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We have a very close-knit but well-rounded group of riders all with a hungry mentality with the same common goal. We’ll try and race well and have fun along the way, the balance is important. 

This is the first time you’ve done two Grand Tours in the same year – was that always part of the plan or did the strong showing the Giro dictate things?

Yes, last December in the training camp we decided two Grand Tours would be part of the plan. If I was tired in the summer we would change it but I recovered well after the Giro and felt good enough to give it a go. 

What do you make of this year’s Vuelta route – as ever it looks like they’ve taken the normal rule book of putting a Grand Tour together and given the whole thing a good shake! 

It’s going to be a hard three weeks, perhaps harder than usual for the Vuelta. There are a lot of tiring medium mountain days and some days that will eliminate some favourites in the first week. 

What’s the plan for the EF team? Obviously, you’ve got Rigoberto as the leader – is it all in for him or are you targeting individual success if the opportunity arises?

Uran is the leader yes. He’s very consistent and a good leader so it’s the best bet for us. We have a strong team to support him with a good attitude so anything is possible.

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That said, there will be opportunities for everyone else on certain days that don’t conflict Rigo and the team’s other ambitions. 

How important is it going to be having Juanma Garate in the car given he’ll have an understanding of his home country and the roads in certain parts?

He’s a great director who maintains the same level of attention to detail regardless of the country he’s in. We’ll be well organised and have all the necessary information and small details required. As riders we will have no excuses in that department! 

Talking of the Giro, you had those two incredible stages – what was the plan? Get out in front and see what happens?

When I’m going well I always like to race aggressively and push my limits. In the Giro, I had great form and wanted to push myself and see if the risks paid off. I didn’t win a stage but I was regularly alongside some the world’s best deep into the race which was a great achievement. 

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You were very understated when questioned about what those two performances – and the Giro as a whole meant – have you had a chance to assess things or does it still ring true that you’re just looking at improving each race at a time? 

I’m still relatively young and I was a late developer so my limits are still unknown. I’ve had good performances in the past but always lacked the consistency.

With that in mind, I wasn’t sure how each day would turn out so I tried to keep my feet on the ground and not give too much away. 

Looking back it was a good performance and demonstration that this year I’ve become more robust and consistent over the winter. 

You followed up the Giro performance with a stage win and the mountain classification at the Tour de Suisse, is this the progression into becoming a GC contender in the GTs over the next couple of years? 

It was a win I’d been waiting for a few years. I think it’s part of my progression as a cyclist. Ultimately we want to win races and the team helps each other to win races.

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Victories open doors for bigger and better opportunities so yes I think it will be an important step in my career.,

The EF team looks completely different to any other World Tour team in its makeup, its ambitions, the way it does things. What’s it like to ride with them?

When EF came onboard, very few people had heard of them. Their global objectives lie very close to ours so we work very well together. We have a very international roster which combines many cultures and lifestyles.

We learn a lot from each other on a daily basis. When you combine that with the more laid-back nature of the team we have created a very special and fun atmosphere. 

A lot of the EF victories seem to come from riders having the confidence to back themselves in certain situations. Is that a result of the kind of atmosphere that the team creates?

I believe everyone has the chance to be who they really are with no pretence or ego involved. On the road in races we get the chance to race our own ways with the support of the team. We never race to a particular formula or traditional plan. The directors work hard to take us to races that suit us and our abilities and try to get the best out of everybody. 

How much of the non-World Tour stuff are you going to be getting involved in? Is it something you see as a good opportunity? 

So far I haven’t been part of the alternative calendar. It is an interesting project that has gathered a lot of momentum and attention. At some point, if it doesn’t coincide with my own personal objectives I would like to take part in an event. 

Going back to the beginning, you rode under John Herety at JLT Condor who’s well known as the don of British team managers. How much did you learn from him and racing the British domestic scene?

John had a massive impact on my career. He is a kind person that always put the well-being of the riders first. It was the first “real” team I was on. He taught me a lot about organisation and the important basics. We weren’t a huge outfit but we wanted for nothing.

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The staff he employed were brilliant. We had great sponsors who provided us with top-level material and he gave us a fantastic racing programme; then the rest was up to us! It was a real shame to see his team disappear after so many years at the forefront in of British cycling. 

As you mentioned you spent a couple of years as a pro with Caja Rural who always seem like a ‘proper’ Spanish team. What was it like riding on a team like that? I imagine the whole culture was different to JLT Condor. 

It was naturally a step up from John’s team. Caja Rural had a bigger budget and a bigger team. We had more staff, more riders, two buses and trucks, a service course etc.

At the time it was hugely impressive but now having ridden for a world tour team, it was a modest setup but did the job and we raced well.

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Culturally it was different from any team I have been on, including EF. I learnt a lot there, above all to be single-minded and look after myself at home, away from races and be disciplined in training and lifestyle. 

What’s the plan for the rest of the year after the Vuelta? There’s obviously the World Champs just over the Pennines in Yorkshire. 

I’m on the long list for the worlds as it stands so I have a chance of going. This season Britain only scored enough points to qualify six riders instead of eight so making the team will be more difficult. I’d love to be there but I’ve had a good season so I won’t stress too much over the matter. What will be will be. 

With EF I will hopefully race some of the Italian races in the build-up to Lombardia and perhaps Japan Cup to finish things off. 

Main image courtesy of EF Education First.

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