Ryan Mullen wasted little time letting Trek-Segafredo know they made a good call by signing him, as he won the stage 3 race against the clock at the Vuelta a San Juan on Tuesday in impressive fashion.
Mullen started early in the day and sat on the hot seat for nearly two hours before his mark of 17:43 proved to be the best time over the 14.4km course.
He beat Filippo Ganna (UAE-Team Emirates) by 25 seconds and Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) by 30, and was the only rider to put in a sub-18-minute ride.
"Obviously it’s my first race of the year and it’s my first race for Trek-Segafredo, so it’s really nice to be able to start the season with a win," Mullen said in the press conference after the stage.
"I wasn’t sure how I would feel today because it’s really early in the season for me, so to come away with the win is really nice. I think everyone on the team is really proud."
The course was tailor-made for Mullen, circling through the provincial capital and providing little challenge in the form of vertical gain. The biggest obstacle on the day proved to be the headwind that hit riders on certain sections of the course, including the closing kilometres.
"When I saw the course a few weeks ago I was actually really happy with this distance, and this kind of terrain is really good for me," Mullen said. "I’m kind of a pretty heavy rider, and I don’t really go up hills very fast. I saw it was flat and I was pretty happy.
"I think everyone today maybe got it wrong, because you always push harder in a headwind, but I think everyone kind of forgot that the last 4km were into the headwind like I forgot, and I started going slower and slower and slower. Everyone was the same, even Filippo."
The early-season win provides a benchmark for Mullen as to where his form is after winter training, and he said beating riders like Ganna and Majka is a good omen for the season ahead.
"Obviously, taking the win today gives me a lot of motivation and hopefully a lot of momentum to take through to my next races," he said. "The next race for me is Algarve, which also has a TT that is a similar distance, so it’s also good for me there. It would be nice if I can keep the momentum rolling and continue to win."
Mullen has even more and bigger time trial wins in his focus.
"I’ll try to retain the national title," Mullen said of the Irish time trial jerseys he won in 2015 and 2017. "That’s a pretty big goal for me. And I really want to put a big focus on the European time trial championships this year in Glasgow. It’s close to home for me, so it would be nice to try to take a victory there."
Mullen wasn’t the only Trek-Segafredo rider to fare well in Tuesday’s time trial. Greg Daniel finished fourth on the stage, crossing the line 30 seconds slower than Mullen and tenths of a second behind Majka.
Jarlinson Pantano was 11th, 53 seconds behind the winner. Daniel is the best-placed GC rider now for Trek, in 12th at 48 seconds from the race leader Ganna, while Pantano is 17th at 59 seconds.
Daniel has been riding on the front for the team to help chase down breakaways and set up teammate Giacomo Nizzolo in the sprints, but Mullen said now that the time trial is in the rear-view mirror, his role in the team for the rest of the week could change.
"He’s going really well and he’s a really strong rider," Mullen said of Daniel. "So I think now maybe we’ll shift a little bit and I’ll start doing some pulling. I think the team kind of protected me a little bit before the TT so I wouldn’t be fatigued before we came here.
"So now I think there will be a little role reversal, and I would like the opportunity to pull for the guys as well. I’ve kind of had a sheltered role, so now it’s my turn to work for the boys."
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