Almost invariably, the Tour of Britain follows a script written by the strongest teams. They decide which of the minnows is allowed to escape each day, to fight for the smaller prizes, and decree when the escape is controlled before the big names fight for stage victory. Very occasionally, however, a rider gives a more than welcome blow to the smaller fry.
At Exeter, the little-known Robin Carpenter, who was on the second division rally cycling team, stood his ground after a long break, largely alone, to take double the stage victory and the lead of the career. The last time anything comparable happened on the British Tour was in 2014, when Italy’s Edoardo Zardini won the stage at the Tumble in South Wales and took the lead for a day, although Carpenter hopes to hold out longer.
Although they do not enjoy the leviathan status of Ineos, Jumbo-Visma or Deceuninck-Quickstep, Rally is currently enjoying a streak of success on cycling’s smaller national tours. In the past month, they have clinched three stage victories on the Tour de Portugal and one on the Tour of Denmark, but in terms of the quality of the opposition, this was arguably the best of the season.
Carpenter, a 29-year-old from Philadelphia whose last win was the Cascade Classic in 2017, was part of the five-man breakout that got away shortly after kickoff, enjoying an early four-minute lead, until Dan Martin’s Israel Start The Up Nation team decided to test the waters around Dartmouth, dividing the field and closing in 45 seconds before deciding it was all a bit premature, with over 120km remaining. His effort broke the usual harmony among WorldTour teams, and then the breakout was allowed to win nearly eight minutes before the race over Dartmoor.
The quintet narrowed down along the long climbs past granite and rock towers to Rundlestone and Warren House Inn, where there was still no consensus on who should go after, with night leader Wout van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma doing the bare minimum, while Deceuninck- Quickstep seemed to hold back. Perhaps they were hoping that Mark Cavendish, a victim of an accident from the start with a damaged elbow, could remain in the peloton, or perhaps Tuesday’s 18km team time trial in South Wales led them to hang up the fire.
When the mainly downhill race to Exeter began, Carpenter sent the last of his teammates, Jacob Scott of the British Canyon-DHB team, but Scott at least had the consolation of a good advantage in the King of the Mountains award having led the race to through Cornwall the day before. “I knew that when we had seven and a half minutes I would make it [to the finish] it was just a matter of making sure I got rid of all of them, ”Carpenter explained, although the wreckage of the field cut most of that down before the finish, where he only had 33 seconds in hand.
The last time the Tour of Britain featured a team time trial, in 2018, the winners were Jumbo, with Quickstep just 16 seconds behind, and Team Sky, now Ineos, and Movistar in fourth and fifth places. The quartet will start as favorites for the stage, after which the pecking order will be clear for Wednesday’s tough mountain stage through Snowdonia. Anyone can guess how Carpenter’s Rally will fare, although the race leader said his goal for Tuesday is “to make sure my team doesn’t let me down.” Regardless of how you end up, all contenders for the “doomed” daily escape will be encouraged by your example.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism