We have a tendency in this world that we live in of holding people to the benchmarks that they set, of not letting them lower their standards.
Once a sportsperson has achieved something great or reached a career high, we expect them to repeat that glory, to build consistency and make sure that that result remains not an outlier but a frequent event.
It is, of course, nonsense. No individual can forever remain at the top; some stay there for longer, but everyone eventually has to settle for lesser results.
Take Hugh Carthy’s case. Touted as one of Britain’s rising stars as a teenager and in his early twenties, the EF Education-EasyPost rider came good on his promise at the 2020 Vuelta a España when he finished third overall, securing his maiden Grand Tour podium spot. It was an outstanding achievement.
Since then, Carthy has finished eighth and ninth at the Giro d’Italia and is currently 14th overall at the Vuelta a España. Had he not finished third at the Vuelta, those results obtained at the Giro would have been viewed in a different, more complimentary light; now, though, The Public’s Carthy Barometer of Success reads that only a podium is deemed as noteworthy and significant success for the Prestonian.
It’s unfair though and doesn’t reflect what the man himself thinks. “I think top-10 would be something I’d like to do,” the 28-year-old tells Cycling Weekly. “I don’t expect anything. I come to every race the same, try to do my best and the result is the result.
“If there are ten guys who are better than you, there’s not much you can do. I’m happy to be here, racing well and I’m not going to try and set expectations.”
Should Carthy go on to finish in the top-10, he would join an exclusive club of just four other Britons who have finished in the top-10 of a Grand Tour more than three times: the other members are Chris Froome, Robert Millar and Simon and Adam Yates.
“That’s my aim,” he says. “And I’m in a position to do it. I look around at the riders ahead of me on GC and I have confidence. There’s room for improvement… but until Madrid nothing is done.”
Jay Vine is a different case. The Australian, as the now well-versed story goes, has only been a professional for two seasons, securing a contract with Alpecin-Deceuninck last year thanks to the Zwift Academy.
His two stage wins at this year’s Vuelta, his possession of the mountain’s jersey and his watts per kilo figures mean that people are now discussing whether or not he should be challenging for GC honours in future Grand Tours.
Stage wins, the narrative goes, are not enough; if Vine is such a great climber then he ought to be able to back that up and be in contention to win the Giro, Tour or the Vuelta.
He doesn’t agree. “Who remembers seventh on GC at the Tour in 2013?” Vine asks, our subsequent research telling us that it was Jakob Fuglsang who occupied that berth. “But you will always have that photo of you crossing the line as a stage winner.
“It’s interesting because I personally think, and I know other riders do as well, that a top-10 GC means you’re going really, really well. But no-one else does.
“Maybe in the moment they do, maybe a week after, but two months later no-one cares.
“You obviously get paid the big bucks for being a GC rider but it’s a lot of stress for 3,500km and I wouldn’t have been able to have my wins if I was racing for GC. And those wins were a blast. I wouldn’t trade them.”
Vine says that before the Vuelta he tallied up where he could gain points in the mountain’s classification, but going for the polka dot jersey is a lot more fun and a lot less demanding than trying to finish in the GC’s top-10, a result that people would forget about within a few days.
“The margins are so fine to go for the GC,” he says, knowing from his experience of one-week stage races where he has finished second twice at the Tour of Turkey and once at the Tour of Norway.
“We started this race with a team time trial in Netherlands and we were never going to be competitive. Ineos spend millions to get their guys ready for time trials and they still lost by 13 seconds. That’s why I came here with the goal of a stage win.”
As both Vine and Carthy take on the last half of the Vuelta, both intent on achieving their own personal objectives that will constitute success for them, it’s warming to read Vine’s comments about how fun bike racing can be, even when there’s so much internal and external pressure.
“Stage eight was just awesome,” he beams. “It was fun all day, the valleys were fast, I was ripping it with a friggen ex-world champion. It was awesome. Absolutely fantastic. I loved every minute of it.”
Success can come in many ways; it doesn’t have to be defined by what’s came before.