Giro d'Italia: Mullen aiming high in time trial on unfamiliar terrain

Irishman makes Grand Tour debut

Although the participants in the 2018 Giro d'Italia have all been housed on the outskirts of Jerusalem for the past two days, they have been obliged by the local organising committee to train far outside the city.

It means that riders will only get to sample Friday's opening time trial on the morning of the stage, although that hasn't prevented Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo), a man with designs on the opening maglia rosa of the Giro, from carrying out his own, virtual reconnaissance.

"I won't see it in person until Friday morning, nobody will, but I've got a video from the race organisation and watched it seven or eight times," Mullen told Cyclingnews in Jerusalem. "It was obviously filmed by somebody just cruising around so I've sped it up to double speed just to try to get a feel for the speed in the corners. It gives you a general idea but it's not great because the video doesn't take any racing lines, and it's stopping behind trucks.

"Still, it's told me that it's definitely not flat and it's definitely not straightforward. It's very technical and will take a lot of pacing, and balls on the corners. There's one corner that's 70kph and if you get it wrong at that speed, you can kiss goodbye to an arse cheek!"

Mullen is more aware than most that the hilly nature of the 9.7km route is not ideally suited to his characteristics as a time triallist. He cheerily noted on social media, for instance, that he weighs in some 14kg heavier than the 70kg average of riders on this Giro, but he will nonetheless approach the opening stage of his Grand Tour debut with considerable ambition.

"It's definitely not going to be my kind of TT where you sit at one steady pace and buckle in for the ride," Mullen said. "There's a good bit of climbing with those short, sharp kickers, but there's still a few rises where you can carry momentum from the downhill that comes before, so that kind of plays into my favour a little bit."

The 23-year-old has ridden two individual time trials since signing with Trek-Segafredo from Cannondale during the off-season, claiming a win at the Vuelta a San Juan in January and then placing 19th on the final day of Tirreno-Adriatico in March. The Giro's second, longer test in Rovereto on stage 16 is more in keeping with Mullen's preferences for a time trial course, but he acknowledged that, to this point in his career, he has performed better in one-off time trials.

"If that [Rovereto] TT was on Friday, I'd be licking my lips, but I'm still really glad there's a TT start to this Giro because I always ride better when I'm fresh anyway," Mullen said. "I'm a TT rider and any TT I'm presented with, I'll ride as hard as I can to get a result. It's my sole strong characteristic as a rider, and I'll take any opportunity I can get."

While the hilly nature of the course might lend itself to defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) or Chris Froome (Sky), men with ambitions of final overall victory might also be less inclined to take risks on the technical corners. Mullen, on the other hand, will not back away from taking aggressive lines around the course.

"I can't really comment for those guys, but I know for myself, I'm going to take the maximum risk," he said. "It's my shot, even if maybe it's not 100 per cent suited to my build."

Giro debut

This Giro also marks the inaugural Grand Tour of Mullen's career, and the Irishman has had to strike a balance between tapering towards the explosive opening time trial and preparing for the rigours of a three-week race across all terrains. He has not raced since bringing his Classics campaign at Paris-Roubaix, and opted against undertaking an altitude training camp ahead of the Giro.

"I talked about it with my coach, because I always struggle when it comes to high altitude stuff – my body just stops working at 2,000 metres," Mullen said. "But I'd never done altitude training before and you don't know how your body will respond to it, so we decided not to do it, especially with the first stage being a relatively good shot at a good result."

Not that Mullen's race will end once the sun sets on Jerusalem on Friday evening. His ambition is to make it at least as far as that second, longer time trial in Rovereto. "I want to do my job for the boys throughout the race and hang on as long as I can. If I can make it to the second TT, I'll look to make to the finish," Mullen said. "I've never done a Grand Tour before and I've heard a lot of horror stories, so we'll see how it goes."

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