Six riders. Three in the top 20 overall. Two Grand Tour rookies (no more).
EF Education First Pro Cycling started the 102nd Giro d’Italia last month in hopes of winning a stage. We leave Italy without a stage win but with a sense of pride and a new experience under our belt.
Hugh Carthy spent one day in the best young rider’s white jersey and finished 11th overall. Nate Brown provided crucial leadership out on the road – and back at the hotel where he shared a room with Grand Tour debutant Sean Bennet. And about Bennett? He mixed it up in the sprints, rode in the breakaway and kept a smile on his face as he suffered.
Joe Dombrowski came to fore in the mountains, as we had expected, but he exceeded expectations. He was at the pointy end of the climbing days every day and was rewarded with 12th overall for his efforts. Tanel Kangert featured in an exciting final road stage breakaway, put in strong time trials and lent his experience to his younger teammates. Jonathan Caicedo faithfully took on the duty of domestique whenever possible, ferrying bottles up to his teammates, protecting his team’s leaders after the first week’s long days in the saddle.
Hear from our six finishers and the sport directors that guided them from Bologna to Verona below.
Juanma Garate (sport director)
We lost two riders in the first week, and that cost us a lot of energy. When you are riding for the breakaway, you need the whole team. It was a big loss to lose two of eight before the third week.
Then we had Bennett and Caicdeo, and we had a decision to make. We had to choose how to use them, to keep them relaxed and bring them all the way to Verona or to give them specific jobs at key points in the race. We decided, after much discussion, to have them do the minimum, to keep them calm, to support their arrival to Verona. It’s an investment in the future. It’s really important to finish a Grand Tour to know what it means. They finished, and they know now.
Obviously we wanted to win one stage. Obviously. Realistically we didn’t have one rider that could do a really good overall result on paper, so the stage win was the goal. But after the time trial in San Marino, when we saw our climbers do a good time trial, putting them in a good spot for the GC, we tried to be a bit more conservative, especially with Hugh, but still keeping in the mind the possibility of a stage win.
I’m most proud that we were protagonists. In Bologna, in the staff meeting, this is what we talked about, and it’s exactly what happened. In the last mountain stage, we had a rider the break and then three with the maglia rose, three in the group of 25. We knew this could happen. At the end, we didn’t have the legs or the luck to win one stage, but we had many reasons to feel proud.
Nate Brown (road captain)
People underestimated us as a team, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that we surprised people. No one thought we could do much here, and what we did was pretty incredible. We didn’t get that stage win we chased, but the way Hugh rode, the way Joe rode, the way we were in nearly every single major breakaway, I’m really proud of the way we all came together to accomplish that.
I think [Vincenzo] Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was quite impressed with the way we rode, the way Hugh rode especially. He was shocked to see Hugh up there the first time, the second time, but he came to expect it, I think. To have Nibali, one of the greatest, say to us “You guys have just been out there fighting for it.” shows that we’ve come a long way over these three weeks.
The one thing I’ve learned from this Giro? It doesn’t get any easier.
Tanel Kangert (18th overall)
Three weeks ago, I was hopeful. I was excited. I was going into the unknown – the first Grand Tour with a new team. I cannot say I fulfilled all of my objectives, but I tried new things, going for stages in the last week after a top 10 in GC fell out of reach, and I had fun with that. Maybe in the future that will be my next goal, to try to win a stage in the Grand Tour rather than to fight for a spot in the top 10.
I’m grateful for the work that the directors put into preparing every stage. They’re really into details. Before we start every day, we know everything about how the stage will be except how the other teams will ride.
Sean Bennett (neo-pro, first Grand Tour)
I was super stressed about doing a Grand Tour before the Giro. Now I know I can finish them. I was worried that I’d have to pull the plug in the third week. Now I’m confident that I can make it through.
I learned I can suffer a lot, just like everyone else. And I learned how important it is to conserve energy anywhere you can, how to switch off when you don’t need to be on, how to save yourself for the days that matter.
In the hardest moments, I was telling myself: “Get to the finish. I’ve got to get to the finish. Just get to the finish.” Both big mountain stages were full-on suffering for me. But I finished.
The overwhelming emotion? Relieved.
Joe Dombowski (12th overall)
This year was a tale of two races. The first half was not particularly selective. There were a lot of nervous, dangerous stages, but it was flatter. The second half was a lot climbing, a lot of big mountain days. This was a much more back-loaded, much less balanced Giro than the ones I’ve raced.
In the past, I have shown that I could be good on a day or a few days before, and not that I really targeted the general classification, but to finish two spots out of the top 10, that shows I was consistent. For me, this Giro was a step forward in consistency, and I’m pretty happy with that.
Jonathan Caicedo (neo-pro, first Grand Tour)
It has been a hard Giro. For me, this is something completely new, but I’m really content to have finished. There have been very hard days and I can’t say thank you enough to the team, to Juanma and all the staff that are always trying to keep us motivated and help us get through to continue. I have gained so much experience during this Giro d’Italia, this has been the best thing, learning from the team, the team helping me and I’m so happy with everything, happy to have finished.
It’s absolutely incredible the level of fatigue that you feel in your body. There were many days when I was thinking to myself that I didn’t want to go out there again, the legs just weren’t giving me anything. I didn’t think it was possible to go on. But I kept going and going and going, and eventually the body learns how to deal with it better. You get into a rhythm, and then it’s impressive what you can do.
What I was seeing in me, I was also seeing in other riders, so I knew it wasn’t only me that was suffering. When you arrive at the line with 20 others riders that are also suffering and you make it, it’s awesome. It helps you deal with the fatigue and pain.
In these moments of suffering, I think about the team, about wearing the team colors, racing for such a great team. I think about the staff, the team working behind you, cheering you on. I also think about my family supporting from afar, sending lots of encouragement. Every time I thought I didn’t have the capacity to carry on, I found out that I had two or three times more in me that I thought I had to give.
Hugh Carthy (11th overall)
I learned that I can be up there for three weeks. Eleventh for me, at my age, is a good result. If I had been one of the top contenders, that would have been disappointing, but for me, it’s good.
The team has learned that I can step up for the full three weeks. I’ve learned that, too. I don’t want to get too hung up on what I’ve done here, too focused on it. With a little bit more preparation, with a few tweaks, I’d like to come back better next year.
People have been saying that I’ve gotten popular with the media. My parents have been following. Old friends and people I’ve met along the way have reached out. I try and get on well with anyone in the team, away from the team, but my job, first and foremost, is to stay focused and race, so I’m not getting too distracted by the media coverage or the attention. These three weeks don’t change anything in that regard. There’s still a lot of hard work to do, and I’m going to continue doing it.
Fabrizio Guidi (Giro head sport director)
This Giro was a day-by-day fight. There was never one day where someone dropped all the others. We saw a race until the end. We had our opportunities throughout the three weeks, and we missed only one. It was probably the only mistake we made as a group this Giro, but I can’t complain. We were always present, in the big and hard stages, we were always part of the race. I’m not surprised but I am proud.
We gained some important experience at the Giro. Several riders took huge steps forward, and their steps are a step ahead for the team. This Giro is confirmation of what we are building together.
There was a mid-week pivot where the race started to go vertical and the highly…