For his day job, Rupert Guinness writes about sport. He started with rowing and he’s regularly covered rugby but it’s cycling that has been the biggest influence on his professional life. As a journalist for Fairfax Media, he has covered some of the world’s biggest bike races and this May he was back in Italy for the Giro d’Italia. While he filed daily reports for his newspaper, it wasn’t always possible to publish all the stories he collected during his visit.
Jay McCarthy was one of the 13 Australians at the 2014 Giro. He would finish third in stage 17 but there’s more to the story than the results achieved by the 21-year-old. Guinness caught up with the Queenslander while he was in Italy and he’s offered RIDE this piece to give some background into a young rider with plenty of promise. “I just felt that the least Jay deserved some recognition for his gutsy Grand Tour debut,” explained Guinness.
– By Rupert Guinesss
Jay McCarthy was a late call-up for the Tinkoff-Saxo team at the Giro d’Italia, but from the shadows of a line-up that included compatriot Michael Rogers who won two stages and Poland’s Rafal Majka who finished sixth overall, the 21-year-old Queenslander managed to impress many with his work. He would finish stage 17 in third place, his best result of the three-week contest, and claim 91st position on GC over three hours behind the champion, Nairo Quintana.
As Rogers told The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media) of McCarthy’s race after his stage win at Zoncolan: “He’s done extremely well. He really surprised me for his first Grand Tour to get a third [on a stage]. He got a good understanding for cycling and how to race these races. He did a lot of work, a lot in that first week and to be able to still back up and get a result was great.”
I spoke to McCarthy outside the Tinkoff-Saxo team bus after finished third on the 208km stage from Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto where Italian Stefano Pirazzi held off a chase group that included second-placed Belgian Tim Wellens, McCarthy, Thomas De Gendt and Matteo Montaguti in that order after attacking with 1.3km to go. The five leaders were remnants of the day’s main breakaway of 24 that formed after a fast first 90km.
Rupert Guinness: Jay, can you take us through how the stage unfolded for you get into the break and then be up there for the stage win?
Jay McCarthy: “I got in the breakaway and had to take the opportunity. I knew from beginning that a break could go away. Once every team had a rider in the move and there were no GC contenders – we were pretty much going to stay away to the finish. I just had to make sure we went with the right moves towards the end.
“I felt great on the descent and came across to De Gendt and Pirazzi [along with Montaguti and Willems] with about 15km to go.
“I hadn’t intended to attack on the last couple of climbs, so I could sit back in that group and see what was going on. I moved up at the right time and took my chance and got away with that small group at the end. In the final kilometres that Baldiani rider, Pirazzi, got away and we didn’t get him back.”
Here you are, at the pointy end of your first Grand Tour – a race that you only came in to the team for at the last minute – and in seemingly strong form…
“I wasn’t originally down to do the Giro, but I have done all the lead-in races and training camps knowing that it could happen – and then I found out the night before we left for Ireland that I would be going to be racing.
“I was told in the weeks leading up to the Giro that I might have a chance to race, so I was ready for it when it happened. I am glad it happened because the team has been performing really well and I felt I have been able to help a lot during the stages that are a bit flatter and look after Rafa [Majka] and the other climbers before the climbs. It’s been a great opportunity and I am glad I am here.”
It’s a great example of how you have to really back yourself and be ready…
“We have had a real high moral in the team in this Grand Tour… I have had great guys and a great support staff to look after me. At the beginning I never thought about getting in a break. It was all about surviving this Giro. But I had good legs, and a good start in the race and found myself in a good position to go for my shot. You have to take these opportunities when they come.”
Of course with Mick Rogers being in the team, his comeback must have inspired you. And I’d imagine he’s been there to help with advice, is that right?
“Of course. Ever since I signed with Tinkoff-Saxo, I have been really close with Mick as I’ve spent a lot of time at the AIS base in northern Italy. Mick lives around there so I knew him before I actually signed with the team. He is a great guy to look up to for advice. I’m just glad everything worked out for him and he is back here in the squad where he belongs.”
A ride like what you did during stage 17 – and everything else you have done at the Giro – is a way of repaying the team for the faith they put in you when you joined to start last season.
“Last year I was just finding my feet. I say to a lot of people that I felt personally, I was just going through the motions a little bit. And instead of setting my own little goals and going for my own opportunity… I need that kick or goal to get myself going in the off-season, the Australian summer.
“Then everything started to fall into place and I found my way in the team. I feel comfortable now and can work towards certain things that will help me a better professional and I have a great team and staff [on it] to look up to for advice.”
Is a course like the one for stage 17 suited for you? It wasn’t a mountain stage, but it wasn’t flat either – it had a few nice hills to test you…
“I guess you can call me a bit of a ‘puncheur/climber’. It ended up being perfect for me. In that last little climb [20km to go] I could sit back and find my way.”
* * * * *