- Who: Robin Carpenter, L39ION of Los Angeles
- Location: Northwood, MA
- Type of rider: all-rounder and breakaways
- Favorite race ever: Philadelphia Cycling Classic
- Hobby: Bread making, sourdough specialist
Robin Carpenter had made it. He was living what those of us cheering from the roadside consider the dream: racing in Europe, on a pro team, against the best riders in the world. And he’d done it the hard way, without the benefit of the junior development programs, working his way through domestic and international racing until he landed a spot on the Rally team (now Human Powered Health) at age 25. Yet now, after five years of the European circuit, Carpenter has chosen to come home and race for L39ION of Los Angeles.
“I’m really excited to do something new. Not like crit racing is new, but it’s new to me,” Carpenter says. And though the shorter events could seem like a challenge for a rider coming from multi-stage events and 200-kilometer road races, his greatest strengths are a remarkable work ethic, an obsession with race strategy, and the strength to drive breakaways all the way to the line—assets at any distance. In Carpenter, L39ION sees an all-around contender and a top-tier teammate.
Consummate teammate is a role Carpenter relishes and excels at, and he’s joined at L39ION by Kyle Murphy, also coming from Human Powered Health (HPH). Last year, in a show of power and patience, Carpenter launched Murphy to win the star-spangled jersey at Road Nationals.
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Carpenter lined up at the 2022 national championship confident that HPH would claim the jersey, thanks to the team’s experience and an advantage in numbers. As the race took shape, strong but solo riders like Magnus Sheffield of the Ineos Grenadiers and Lawson Craddock of Team BikeExchange–Jayco were forced to lead an hours-long chase of seven escapees with over a minute lead. And when the peloton came back together, big efforts by HPH teammates Ben King and Gavin Mannion put the team in a comfortable position as the pack continued to stretch and shrink on each of the 17 ascents of the 10 percent incline of Sherrod Hill.
Carpenter and Murphy sat alert in the trickling peloton and watched Sheffield and Craddock control the race. With six miles left, the break was caught and a handful of attacks manifested. Still, no threat materialized, and Carpenter navigated the last five miles of the race confident that he or Murphy would cross the line first. After all, what could the lone wolves have left in their legs after the 70-plus-mile chase? It was time for the two to commit to attacks and counters until the rubber band snapped.
At three miles to go, Carpenter accelerated to shake all but Murphy and Hugo Scala of Project Echelon Racing. When his teammate responded and put distance on Carpenter and Scala, the race was decided. Carpenter ensured that his teammate’s final effort remained uncontested, and Murphy rode to a solo win in Knoxville. “Either of us was about to win that race. It was my best memory of the year,” Carpenter says.
Carpenter’s breakthrough season came in 2016, when he won the general classification of the Tour of Alberta. This was followed by GC wins at the Cascade Classic and Joe Martin Stage Race in 2017, as well as the one-day Winston-Salem Classic. But despite his success on the road, Carpenter never thought of himself as an exceptional athlete. “I didn’t get noticed for a while. I wasn’t making national team trips as a junior to Europe. And perhaps I developed a little bit slower.”
He recognized and accepted the limits of his physiology, but he made himself essential by meticulously studying race routes, training religiously, and honing an eye keen to chances. “In the first few years, I was always that rider on the team doing the extra research, the extra recon of the stages, and looking at the climbs on Google Street View. I always tried to go above and beyond and figure out where my opportunities were.”
In 2018, Rally opened the doors to a then-25-year-old Carpenter to move up to the Pro Continental ranks and rub shoulders with the sport’s top riders. The UCI ProTeam squad had been home to such talented North American riders as Michael Woods, Sepp Kuss, and Phil Gaimon, serving, in a way, as a development unit for riders looking for a coveted UCI WorldTeam contract. Abroad, Carpenter had a flurry of second-place finishes, most notably at the 2019 Paris-Chauny, finishing behind Anthony Turgis and ahead of Arnaud Démare and Tim Merlier.
Since relocating to Norwood, Massachusetts, in July 2021, Carpenter now enjoys the changing of the seasons—a major shift after seven years in San Diego. Carpenter’s wife, Hannah Grunwald, received her Ph.D. in evolutionary developmental biology from UC San Diego and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School—the reason behind the couple’s move to the Boston area.
“I still really like bike racing and would like to continue for as long as I reasonably can—barring injury and the ability to pay the bills. And as long as I can live at home and not be on the road for months at a time on a different continent from my wife,” he says.
The idea of returning home had been brewing since 2021, when Carpenter demoed the discipline of choice of many retiring road racers: gravel. That spring, he managed to place sixth at Unbound Gravel in Emporia, Kansas, finishing 31 minutes behind Peter Stetina and Ted King and just ahead of Jeremiah Bishop—riders with years of gravel experience.
Later that year, back in Europe, a golden opportunity materialized in the 2021 Tour of Britain. After spending most of the 114-mile stage two in the breakaway, Carpenter found himself alone with 15 miles to go—and the strength to stay that way. On the finish straight, he chucked his sunglasses to the crowd and shook his fists in celebration of a feat that seemed impossible. He would wear the leader’s jersey the next day, with Belgian champ Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma 22 seconds behind in the general classification. “After learning my way through the ins and outs of European racing and then coming close a number of times, it got exponentially more frustrating,” he says. “That day I made sure there was no one else who could punk me in a sprint.”
By the end of the 2022 season, however, he’d decided to return to the U.S. for good. “Battling for time at home or giving up and living a long-distance marriage, were just not acceptable to me,” says Carpenter.
Now Carpenter is preparing for a season that will look a lot different than the last five years abroad. He laughs at the speculation that his decision to join L39ION—a UCI Continental Team—is part of a retirement plan. It isn’t. Rather than a step-down or dimming of the lights, the choice is a lateral move that gives him exactly what he is after: more time with family and the excitement of a new challenge as short high-speed races at twilight in city centers replace the lengthy soap opera of traditional European stage racing.
“L39ION wants to show the cycling world that American crits are not something to be looked down on as a secondary form of competition,” Carpenter says. “These are high-level events put on with live coverage, and they’re dynamic.”
In addition to bolstering L39ION’s success on the crit racing scene, Carpenter will be a key piece in the team’s plans to tackle stage and gravel racing. And though his race schedule is still uncertain, he does plan on taking another shot at the Unbound Gravel podium in June.
Rosael is an avid cyclist and seasonal runner who is in the pursuit of getting more people on bikes. All bodies. All bikes. As the editor of special projects, she gets to work on initiatives that further engage our audience and provide additional value to our readership. Lately, she has been dipping her cleats into gravel racing and other off-road adventures.