Peter Crouch is an unlikely inspiration for Hugh Carthy to take to the start line of Saturday’s Giro d’Italia but there is more in common between the cyclist and former footballer than simply their height.
At 6ft 4ins, Hugh Carthy would not look out of place alongside the former England footballer and, leafing through two of Crouch’s autobiographies, has made him realise career similarities.
Once labelled the ‘Crouch of cycling’ for his gangly stature alone, Carthy said: “I did like that analogy and not just because I’m tall and lanky but because I can relate to this story a bit.
“At times, he was always on the bench when good enough to be in the first team. In the England team, he was the leading goalscorer in the Premier League and still sat on the bench.
“There are times in my career where I’ve been thinking ‘bloody hell, I’m better than this’. So, I could relate to that.”
That under-appreciation shifted for Crouch as it is doing so for Carthy, thanks to his break-out performance in finishing on the podium in a stacked field at last year’s Vuelta a Espana. It is a result that has created lofty ambitions for the Giro.
“I’ve had a podium at a Grand Tour, so why can’t I aim for the win?” he said. “I’m not one of the big, big favourites like Mikel Landa or Egan Bernal but I’m in the mix and I’ll take that in my stride.”
At the start of the Vuelta, he was not even deemed the best rider in his eight-man team but a crash hampering Dani Martinez changed that, and Carthy jumped at the chance resulting in his podium, which was also capped off by winning the queen stage up one of cycling’s toughest climbs, the Angliru.
Beginning 2020, the predicted Brits to shine on the Grand Tours were more likely to be Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas only for them to be upstaged by Carthy and Giro winner Tao Geogheghan Hart, the Preston rider’s long-time sparring partner coming up the junior ranks.
“Certain riders understandably get a lot of attention in the media so it’s easy for other riders to get forgotten,” he said. “For Tao and myself, last year was a great time but I like to think it wasn’t a fluke… it was a long time coming.”
But reaching this point has taken him longer than others. For one, and somewhat surprising considering his current height, he was late to grow and, when he did finally shoot up in his late teens, took a while to probably fill out and achieve his potential.
The junior ranks were a process he calls occasionally “demoralising” in part because he did not properly finish growing until he was 22 but, when he did, he patiently waited for his opportunity, trusting in his own ability.
That has predominantly come at EF Education-Nippo, a team Carthy describes – and fondly rather than rudely – as a “weird mix of riders that somehow works”.
They lack the riches of the likes of Ineos-Grenadiers but consistently punch above their weight, much like Carthy has to date.
His rise up the ranks in 2020 is enough to have earned him a place on the seven-man shortlist for the British team for the Tokyo Olympics.
The Yates brothers look shoo-ins for the team – form and fitness permitting – leaving just two remaining spaces.
Carthy would dearly love to make the trip but, as a rider who dreamed of riding the Tour de France as a kid – a feat he achieved last year – it is not the be-all and end-all.
Another Grand Tour podium finish over the next three weeks would certainly not harm his chances of selection.