Brandon McNulty (Rally UHC Cycling) scored his first professional European victory Friday at the Giro di Sicilia, soloing away from a reduced peloton with 15km to go in stage 3 and winning alone in Ragusa nearly a minute ahead of the chase. The 21-year-old American now leads the overall by 59 seconds with Saturday's final Queen to Mt. Etna remaining.
“It feels incredible,” McNulty said in an interview published on his team's website. “I’ve been working towards this for the last few years so to finally get that first pro win is really nice. Hopefully, there’s a snowball effect for the rest of the trip.”
McNulty, the 2016 Junior time trial world champion, joined Rally in 2017 when the team raced at the Continental level. The US team moved to the Pro Continental level last year and embarked on a European schedule that allowed McNulty to hone his skills there and in the early Middle East races, where he turned heads at the Dubai Tour on the stage to Hatta Dam with a late breakaway that he almost stuck to the line. He went on in May to finish seventh overall at the Tour of California.
So far this season McNulty has raced the Mallorca Challenge in Spain and the Tour of Oman in February, finishing ninth overall. The UCI 2.1 Giro di Sicilia marks the start of his second European block of racing with the team.
On Friday, McNulty made it over the Serra di Burgio climb in a group that included teammate Gavin Mannion, then made his winning move when there was a lull in the group.
"[Rally UHC director] Pat McCarty radioed Gavin Mannion and I telling us to look for any opportunity after cresting Serra di Burgio," McNulty said. “Gavin started following moves and when there was a swell in the group, I slingshotted of the front. I hit the wet descent and took the necessary risks to help grow the gap. Once I hit the final climb, I knew I probably had it and just went as hard as I could to the end.”
McNulty's win comes on the heels of two top 10 finishes by teammate Colin Joyce, who was 10th and fifth in the sprint finishes at the end of stages 1 and 2, respectively.
"You know what they say," McNulty said, echoing Joyce's comments after stage 2 in Palermo. "If you don't take a shot, it's a shot not taken."
McNulty, Mannion and nd Joyce have been joined on the Rally roster in Sicilia by veterans Svein Tuft, Rob Britton and Kyle Murphy.
“The team has been incredible this week at supporting both Colin Joyce and me, constantly keeping us topped up with food and water and making sure we always have the necessary clothing,” McNulty said. “We’re always in a good position leading into key sections, and I don’t think I’ve had to touch the wind once this race, which is huge on these long hard days.”
The win is Rally's first of the year during the team's second season at the pro Continental level, and there are much bigger fish to fry soon as the Minnesota-based team takes on La Flèche Wallonne at the end of the month. The stage win on Friday and potential overall win will put the wind in their sails for the rest for the journey. McCarty said he was proud of the team’s effort and recognized the significance of the achievement.
“This is our first stage win and leader’s jersey at a UCI 2.1 event in Europe,” said the former pro. “What it means is that we are an American team that can compete at the highest level in Europe. It wasn’t just one guy today, the whole team rode incredibly well in support of Brandon and he followed through phenomenally well.”
The team's job on Saturday is now pretty straightforward. The 119km stage is short but sweet, slowly winding up the elevation gain until the ascent up Mt. Etna over the final 20km.
“Of course we will defend the lead because we are the team to beat,” McCarty said. “I think everyone is confident we are capable of getting the job done.”
After Sicilia, McNulty will head to Portugal for the three-day GP Bieras Estrala and then on to the Ardennes for Flèche.