The 23-year-old American started the final stage in the race leader’s yellow jersey and with a 23-second advantage on Roglič. However, McNulty and his UAE Team Emirates mistakenly let Roglič get away with other riders on a high-speed descent and then were unable to close down the attack. McNulty then struggled on the steep Krabelin climb, with teammate and Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar leaving him behind to fight to salvage third place overall.
McNulty was forced to chase alone but finished almost eight minutes behind and slipped to 17th overall at 7:46.
“Quite the roller coaster here @ehitzulia this week,” McNulty said via an Instagram message after opting not to stop and explain what happened immediately after the stage.
“We were on the unlucky end of a gap opened on a tricky descent, so we were already on the back foot before the action really started. Thank you all for the encouragement this week! We keep on fighting.”
He later told Cyclingnews: "We're a bit disappointed but all things considered it was a pretty good week for the team. If you had told me before the race started I'd podium on two stages and wear the leader's jersey I'd be really pleased.
“Obviously the last day didn't go how we wanted it to, but those things happen in cycling and it's all experience."
Pogačar worked to help McNulty after he took the leader’s jersey on stage 4 and praised him after defeat.
“You put up a brilliant fight and super race. Great racing with you.” Pogčar wrote in a message, the first to reply to McNulty’s Instagram post.
“Brandon showed he has good character, and he is a really good rider with a bright future. We had fun this week, we did our best, we tried and under the circumstances, we are really happy,” Pogačar said post-race.
McNulty’s defeat needs to be seen in context. He was beaten by arguably the best stage racers in the sport, thanks to the support of riders from Astana and Movistar, that were riding for their own interests on the hilly stage and hilltop finish to Arrate.
McNulty has made some massive steps up in recent weeks and months, confirming his talents. He seems on track to become the best American stage racer of his generation.
The quiet-spoken rider from Phoenix is in his second season at WorldTour level with UAE Team Emirates after cutting his teeth with Rally Cycling since winning the junior time trial world title in Qatar in 2016. Silver and bronze medals in the under-23 time trial world championships confirmed his talents as did his overall victory at the rain-soaked 2019 Giro di Sicilia.
Last year in the Giro d'Italia, McNulty claimed a notable second behind Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) on stage 10, as well as a third place in the Valdobbiadene time trial on stage 14 behind Ineos Grenadiers specialists Filippo Ganna and Rohan Dennis. He finished 15th overall on his Grand Tour debut and is set to lead UAE Team Emirates in this year’s Corsa Rosa alongside Davide Formolo.
McNulty has already taken two fourth places in the WorldTour time trials this season at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and Paris-Nice, where he was just three seconds slower than Roglič.
“I’m just proud that as a young American, he’s really crushing it, it’s really cool,” fellow American Larry Warbasse of AG2R-Citroen told Cyclingnews recalling seeing him develop at last year’s Giro d’Italia.
“He was so impressive, from there on I knew like, ‘Wow, this kid has something special.’ Already before that everyone knew he was a big talent and there was a lot of talk about him. But last year he really delivered on that.”
McNulty will ride the Tour of the Alps on the road to the Giro d’Italia, with a top ten overall the goal for May.
“To improve to the top 10 would be excellent for me and that'd be the goal. A stage win would be nice, as well," he told Cyclingnews during the winter.
"For me, being young, I can take opportunities as they come. Going for stages versus taking 11th, I'd obviously take a stage win. We'll have to see how the race plays out and take the opportunities, really," he said.
"There's not really pressure, I'd say. I obviously have my own ambitions and pressure on myself but not from the outside," McNculty said.
"It still holds true that guys are going at their own pace pretty much. Some guys are going to shine super early and some take a few years to get those races in their legs.”
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