• Jay McCarthy after triumphing at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Australian Jay McCarthy (BORA-Hansgrohe) isn't wallowing in the disappointment of an unfortunate crash which took him out of the final at the Amstel Gold race on Sunday. Instead he is redoubling his efforts into taking a significant result at Flèche Wallonne tonight (AEST).
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

18 Apr 2018 - 1:03 PM  UPDATED 18 Apr 2018 - 1:24 PM

McCarthy was marked down as a key rider for his BORA-hansgrohe team in the Amstel Gold race, going in not as an outright favourite, but certainly a good chance and an excellent foil to team leader Peter Sagan. It didn't work out for the Australian, who came down in a crash at a critical moment of the race and was left behind when the main attacks went.

"It was a light crash but it came at a crucial moment in the race," said McCarthy to Cycling Central, "it sort of lights up there with 40 kilometres to go.

"I got back on fast but then I had to change the bike and trying to come back to the front it was all split to pieces. It was a bit disappointing, it would have been nice to have one or two of us in the final there for Peter."

Valgren beats the best at Amstel Gold Race
Astana's Michael Valgren won the Amstel Gold Race, beating Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott) after a tactical battle at the end of the 263km race from Maastricht.

Sagan was left a bit isolated in the main chasing group when the eventual winning pair of Michael Valgren (Astana) and Roman Kreuziger (Michelton-Scott) attacked and weren't willing to tow the rest of the riders to the line with a nippy Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) present. An extra rider may have made the difference, either chasing back on for Sagan or having the freedom to go with an attack like the one that fought out the win.

For McCarthy, it's the second year in a row that a late crash has cruelled his chances of success in the Ardennes classic that arguably suits him the best.

"Before the race, it was definitely my goal and the goal the team had for me to be there," said McCarthy." With the legs I felt like I had, I think it would have been the case. I can't stay too disappointed for too long though with two important races coming up.

"Amstel is probably one of the better chances for me, but I've put my hand up for Flèche Wallonne."

"It's a tough final there but If I'm delivered into the Mur de Huy with good position I've got good power for the three-minute mark. It's an opportunity I need to take and I think I can deliver a pretty good result. I've got my head screwed on and we'll see what happens."

The final of the Flèche Wallonne is one of the most iconic climbs in modern cycling, the Mur de Huy. At 1.2 kilometres and an average of 10.3 per cent, it is impressive enough, but the statistics don't tell the full story, with an easier start to the climb and a false flat finish offset by an ultra-tough middle section that hits a maximum gradient of 23 per cent.

Tackling this monster of the professional cycling scene is a unique challenge and is probably why it is often the same names on the podium of the race. McCarthy was present at the race last year, battling his way to 19th in his debut on the infamous Mur, but importantly learning what he needed to do to vault his way up the results sheet.

"I'll have to play it by ear," said McCarthy, "but of course coming into the bottom of the climb it's all about position and then the power that you need to do. To be able to follow the likes of Valverde and Alaphillipe - that style of rider that does so well at that finish - that's important, you can go far too early and get swallowed up.

"Look at Valverde last year, he was in a great position and didn't really click the launch button until 300 metres to go. So it'll depend on where I am coming into the final, then it's definitely about  riding a great tempo and having the ability to follow in the final 300-400 metres."

The final of the trio of Ardennes classics is La Doyenne, 'The Old Lady' of the classics, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. At the end of a packed week of racing for the Queenslander, he'll be looking to occupy that key support role again for the 258km monument.

"Last year I was in similar shape," said McCarthy. "I'm probably a bit stronger this year actually and we have a bit of a different roster heading into the race this time.

"There are a few really strong climbers with Davide Formolo and Rafal Majka as our big leaders. My goal for the race is to be there in there in final, either to smell out my own opportunity but really support those two.

"They've got good form and have shown they can ride really well in that race so the opportunity to help them is what I'm really looking forward to the last hour of the racing there. It's probably a bit too hilly for me, but I found myself near the front at the end of the race last year and I can be good support for our two leaders on Sunday."

It's been a career-best start to the season for McCarthy. Second at the national championships only behind the breakaway, putting on an attacking display to try and match it with Richie Porte on Willunga Hill before claiming his first big one-day win in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. He's backed it up in Europe, taking a stage win in the Vuelta el Pais Vasco as well as consistent finishes in and around the podium.

"It's going really well," said McCarthy. "I feel I've been taking steps each year. Having a supportive team and being part of strong roster race in and race out has really helped me develop as a rider. Whether that's racing for my own objectives or supporting other riders in the team I was always going  to get better in that sort of environment." 

It hasn't just been the results that have improved, the Australian summer saw a more relaxed and confident McCarthy. More comfortable with leadership than the time it was thrust upon him after his breakthrough stage win during the 2016 Tour Down Under and more decisive on the road. Reflecting upon that change, McCarthy highlighted how the mental side of the sport has impacted his rise up the sport. 

"There were probably times that I've been in the final of the race, hesitated and missed that opportunity to win," said McCarthy. "We live and breathe cycling, train really hard to be at that level, so when you make that mistake you have to learn from it quickly. You build the legs and the physical side of cycling but it's important to make the mind stronger along the way."

"I came into the World Tour quite young (with Saxo Bank-Tinkoff in 2013 as a 20-year-old), maybe I could have stayed at Under 23s for another year and got some more wins.

"But I don't regret it, at the same time I came into a team with guys like Michael Rogers and Alberto Contador who were always ready to help you out and help you improve. Now it's the same at BORA-hansgrohe and I think that's all part of what's gone into getting me where I am."

McCarthy will ride the Tour of California and the Critérium du Dauphiné after finishing up the classics racing, both of which will be shown live on SBS. From there, it will be off to a Grand Tour, though selection is yet to be finalised for the Tour de France squad.

"Depending on the team's plans," said McCarthy, "if I'm not lining up for the Tour de France, I'll get ready for the Vuelta."