The mature 23-year-old will mark a brief return to the Ardennes Classics this weekend, before shifting his focus to a potential race title tilt at the Tour of Croatia and then the Giro d’Italia.
McCarthy has long-term designs on the Amstel Gold Race and is excited to be back for the 248.7km sinuous test that a lingering back muscle injury threatened. The burgeoning puncheur was side-lined for about a week following a crash at Dwars door Vlaanderen last month and had to rework his race programme in the lead-up to Amstel, which Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) will enter as defending champion on Sunday.
“Last week I was a bit worried having to go to it but these last seven days I’ve started to feel OK again and I’m excited to get into the racing,” McCarthy told Cycling Central.
“I had to take a step back and try and build-up again so I’m not quite sure how I will be going but hopefully I can bring a little extra when I’m in the race.”
McCarthy is set to support Tinkoff team-mate Roman Kreuziger in the race, as he did when the Czech rider won it in 2013.
“That was a pretty great experience for my first Ardennes Classic. I’d like to go as far as I can in the race to be a good support,” he said.
“For sure, with my capabilities, it does suit me. I have always said I’d like to [do well] but I haven’t had a lot of experience in them [the Ardennes Classics] either. Amstel has that many corners and the roads, you can tell the guys who have ridden it for many years.
“I’d like in future to target those races. This year it probably won’t be the case but in the future I plan to head there with a great goal.”
McCarthy will enter Amstel on the back of a productive Tinkoff team training camp across atypical grounds in Cyprus.
“I think the team was introduced to the Cyprus Cycling Federation, a couple of their people were representatives in the Vuelta last year, and they offered us the opportunity to come up here,” he said in a telephone interview from the camp.
“It’s pretty unknown in the cycling world but ever since we’ve been here the weather, the quality of training and the roads have been really good.”
McCarthy has asked for and shouldered more responsibility at his career Tinkoff team this year. His stage win in Stirling at the Tour Down Under, and consequent stint in the leader’s jersey, was a personal breakthrough the Queenslander hopes to repeat at the Tour of Croatia later this month.
“After Down Under I had a little bit of time off and then I went to Ruta Del Sol and was in some of the pre- classics with [world champion] Peter [Sagan],” he said.
“Racing in Belgium isn’t normally my style but it’s great experience. When you have a leader like Peter there it’s always good to take as much out of it.
“Croatia, not being such a massive race, [I’d like to] just to go in there for a bit of confidence, like I did with the Tour of Turkey last year, and have the chance to go for the overall,” he continued. “But we’ll have to see how the next few days play out before that starts.”
McCarthy has become a trusted aid to team-mate Rafal Majka, who finished third at the Vuelta a Espana last year, and will be employed again to aid the 26-year-old Pole at the Giro in what will be the former’s third Grand Tour.
“After my first Grand Tour with him [Majka] in the  Giro I think he felt I was good for him there, and then after the Vuelta last year.
“…The group we’ve got going to the Giro this year, there is still four or five riders that have been with him in his last couple. I think it is important for a leader to have a group that know him and how he races.” - Jay McCarthy
McCarthy was training with that clique in Cyprus where he said the uncertainty of the team’s future, with a new sponsor and owner still wanting, had not affected rider morale.
“Everyone knows what they have to do, and their job, and I think we’ve all come to terms with it pretty well,” he said of incumbent owner Oleg Tinkov’s imminent departure.
“We have to give our best and then hopefully we will find something at the end of the year, if this team isn’t taken over by someone. I think everyone has the same output, and puts that to a different side and focuses on what they have to do to give themselves the best chance.”