Simon Carr was the 30th and final rider to sign a contract with EF Education-Nippo for 2021. Since then, the 22-year-old British neo-pro has already made waves in his first few months with the team. He finished 11th in his first Strade Bianche and eighth in the Tirreno-Adriatico queen stage to Prato di Tivo. Unfortunately, he couldn’t build on that success in the final overall classification after losing time in the freezing cold and wet on stage 5, and after a hard crash into an unprotected bollard on stage 6.
Still, it is already very clear that the British Frenchman (or Franco-Brit) is going places.
Carr was born in Great Britain but moved to France shortly after. He has lived there ever since. “My mum and dad wanted to bring up a family in the country,” he tells me. “This was out of their reach financially in the UK and since my grandparents had a holiday home here, they made the jump across for a new life in France.”
“Here” is the south of France, more specifically the Razes area of Occitanie not far from the iconic walled city of Carcassonne. It’s located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The Plateau de Beille is on his training route and it was on the Pic du Nore where he rode his first road race.
“I started on the mountain bike at school,” he explains. “In this area of France mountain biking is really popular and through school I got to enrol in a three-event race. As a complete novice I was terrible in the trials and downhill events but made the podium in the endurance cross country. I rode a super-old mountain bike that my parents hired out to people using our holiday gîte. The bike was actually older than I was,” he adds with a laugh.
Carr was also an avid runner but an achilles heel injury brought him to the road bike to be able to recover without constantly aggravating his injury. He had some successes as an U17 and junior rider and joined the regional team of Occitane Cyclisme Formation, a development team.
His journey to the pro ranks was anything but smooth sailing, though.
“In hindsight I now know that I’ve probably always suffered with seasonal allergies,” he says. “Looking back I only went well after or during rain but at the time it was hard to know what was wrong. Even when we did start to suspect allergies, we only had our busy local GP to go to. I was probably his healthiest patient.
“When I rode a stage race on the island of Martinique [a French territory in the Caribbean] where they don’t have seasons and went really, really well, it was a defining moment,” he says. “Not just because I won three of the 11 stages, including the two time trials, but also I obtained my elite license and I finally had access to proper diagnosis and treatment.”
With the allergy problem under control Carr managed to get some good results. He moved on to AVC Aix, a prominent French amateur team with a good U23 program, and then on to Delko, the second-division pro team based in Marseille. His first big result in only his first race with the team was a top-10 finish among seasoned pros on the Storheia Summit in the Arctic Race of Norway 2019.
When EF Education First secured the sponsorship of Nippo at the end of 2020, Carr was one of the riders from Delko – which had previously joined forces with the Japanese brand – to make the move to the WorldTour. Japanese riders Hideto Nakane and Fumy Beppu also came across.
“It sounds pretentious because I am now part of this team but from the outside, they really have a cool image,” Carr says. “If I would have made a list of preferred WorldTour teams like I did when deciding on which amateur team to join, EF would be top of the list. The atmosphere on the team is really good. We are serious about our jobs but not robotic. We are pros but not over the top.”
Carr has dual citizenship, both British and French, and lauds the international and multicultural nature of the team. EF Education-Nippo has 15 nationalities on the team and between them they speak 11 languages. Carr is bilingual having grown up in the French school system.
“My upbringing in two cultures fits well within the philosophy of the team,” he says. “Diversity is important and EF does really well in bringing so many different nationalities and characters together in one team. We share the same interests and that’s more important than a shared nationality or language.”
Carr is new to the sport in many aspects. He doesn’t know what kind of rider he will be but he also doesn’t have a historical sense of the sport just yet. He is catching up fast.
“I watch these old races on the internet,” he says. “Stages from the Tour de France from the ’90s or older … The other day I watched the 1995 Tour de France stage that Alex Zülle won [to La Plagne]. I never used to watch many current races but now I do, because that’s also part of my job [as a pro cyclist]. I need to know who is going well as well as using the virtual experience available to me now.”
Carr’s big dream is to win a Grand Tour stage but he also wants to build on his time-trialling. He is not a super-light climber but climbs well as he showed in the Tirreno stage to Prato di Tivo. He now prepares for the Ardennes Classics; all new races to the young rider.
“Liège-Bastogne-Liège is my absolute dream race,” he explains. “I remember watching Simon Gerrans win that one. I will do my first Liège this year and we have a strong team with guys like Sergio Higuita and Neilson Powless. I hope I will get some opportunities too [in these races]. I already experienced that as a neo-pro. Alberto Bettiol was our guy in Strade Bianche but when he crashed the team rode for me. That was amazing.”
As we’ve mentioned, Carr finished a very respectable 11th in what was his WorldTour debut.
As a relatively unknown rider growing up in France, Carr went under the radar of both the French and British federations for quite a long time. Because he hasn’t done any international races for either, he can still choose which nation he would like to ride for.
“I have had good contact with British Cycling recently,” he says. “I was down for the Tour de l’Avenir and the U23 world championships but they were sadly cancelled in 2020. I didn’t ride for Great Britain just yet and that still leaves me with the two options. I haven’t ruled out anything yet but I feel closer to Team GB.”
Carr lost a few important formative years due to his allergies but at 22 years of age his development is now progressing nicely. His first pro victory was a solo win in the Basque rain in Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika last October and his results are slowly getting attention. He still has the advantage of surprise because the peloton doesn’t know him very well. That might soon change, even if he’s not particularly interested in stardom.
“I am not in the sport for the fame – I wanted to win and cycling was the most likely sport I could win in,” he says with a laugh. “No, I just love the sport and not only the racing but everything that comes with it. I like winning and people start to notice me now. If in 10 years from now I haven’t won a Grand Tour stage I’d be disappointed.”
Simon Carr is undoubtedly a name to watch. With the self-confidence he gained in races like Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico and a team that firmly believes in him, he’s bound to lose his anonymity in the peloton pretty soon. A big win only feels like a matter of time.