End of an era? Perhaps, but there is a wealth of talent lying beneath the surface of British cycling

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Hugh Carthy continues to rise up the ranks at the Vuelta a Espana - GETTY IMAGES
Hugh Carthy continues to rise up the ranks at the Vuelta a Espana - GETTY IMAGES

Amid all the champagne and pink ticker tape that followed Tao Geoghegan Hart’s historic victory in the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, it went almost unnoticed that another young British rider was creeping up the general classification at the Vuelta a Espana. 

Hugh Carthy, a 26-year-old from Preston who has never finished in the top 10 of a grand tour, rose to second overall in the final grand tour of the year thanks to a late attack on the final climb of stage six which saw him put time into most of his GC rivals.

Whether Carthy, one of the most taciturn riders in the pro peloton but an interesting character, can go on to emulate Geoghegan Hart and claim a historic victory in Madrid a week on Sunday will depend not only on his legs but those of his EF Pro Cycling team-mates - and how the American team chooses to deploy them. 

It was notable that, despite Carthy being back down the road, EF Pro Cycling’s Michael Woods was allowed to press on in the break and try to win Sunday’s stage. Will EF Pro Cycling switch all their focus to Carthy in the final week, as Ineos did with Geoghegan Hart once he got himself in pink jersey contention? Could Tejay van Garderen play the Rohan Dennis role in the final week, blowing the race apart in the mountains in the cause of a plucky young Brit? We will see. But Carthy’s emergence as a Vuelta contender is another reminder of the bubbling pot of talent lying beneath the surface of British cycling.

The ‘end of an era’ headlines which followed team selection for the Tour de France in August, when Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were left out by Ineos, and Mark Cavendish by Bahrain-McLaren, have been dredged up in recent days to highlight how wrong we all were. Oh ye of little faith. But those headlines were not entirely wrong. 

The generation which won all those Olympics medals in 2008 and 2012, who claimed those first grand tour wins, who made cycling more than just a minor sport in the UK, are reaching the end of the road. Bradley Wiggins has retired, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish are struggling to return to their previous astronomic levels following illness and injury. Geraint Thomas is still hanging in there. Indeed the Welshman might well have won the Giro rather than Geoghegan Hart had he not crashed out on stage three.

But increasingly, it feels as if what we are witnessing - certainly in men’s road cycling - is a changing of the guard. Geoghegan Hart’s overall victory was not the only notable British result in Italy. James Knox, a 24-year-old from Kendal in Cumbria, who rides for Deceuninck-QuickStep, finished 14th overall at the Giro. Tom Pidcock, one of the hottest prospects in world cycling having rampaged his way through the junior and U23 ranks in road, MTB and cyclocross, led the British team at the recent road world championships at the tender age of 21. He has just signed for Ineos for next year. There he will join Ethan Hayter, another young track star who is tipped for great things on the road once he gets Tokyo out of the way.  Suddenly the next generation is coming on strong. 

Tao Geoghegan Hart - AP
Tao Geoghegan Hart - AP

On the women’s front, Lizzie Deignan is still top dog. And at 31, she still has a few more years left at the top if she wants. But the talent is queuing up behind her. Lizzy Banks is 29 but still relatively new on the scene, having only become a professional cyclist in the last couple of years. She is starting to win some big team races, albeit her team has just folded and she needs a new one. The Barnes sisters, Hannah and Alice, are elite riders with Canyon-SRAM, while youngsters such as 21-year-old Anna Henderson and 18-year-old Elynor Backstedt have recently been signed by World Tour teams. 

As Thomas wrote for Telegraph Sport, it is not fair to compare this new generation to Froome or Cavendish or Deignan: “You can’t say ‘Who’s the next Brit who is going to win seven grand tours?’ Or ‘Where’s the next Brit who can win 30 Tour de France stages as well as Milan-San Remo and the world road race?’ That’s just not realistic. But as Tao proved, the talent is out there. They just need that opportunity.”

You would have got very long odds on Carthy winning the Vuelta a week ago. Suddenly the idea does not seem so fanciful.