UAE Team Emirates head into the 2021 season with one of the strongest groups of young riders in the peloton. New signing Marc Hirschi lines up alongside Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar and other talents, including Mikkel Bjerg and Andrés Ardila.
22-year-old Brandon McNulty is among them, the American enjoying a successful debut on the WorldTour stage in 2020 with a Grand Tour debut at the Giro d'Italia, where he finished 15th and took two stage podium placings.
He'll return to the race this spring, featuring alongside Davide Formolo as co-leaders of the squad for a tour of Italy in a more familiar calendar slot. Speaking at his team's pre-season camp in Dubai, he outlined his goals for a season which will be based around the race.
"I think for now the Giro is the target on my schedule. It might also be a dynamic year again though," said McNulty, referring to the possibility of another calendar majorly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Last year the plan was originally the Vuelta, but the way things got turned around it turned into the Giro and I think it just lines up well again to have freedom again this year.
"For now, from speaking with the team I'll have freedom to give it another go at the GC. 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."
It remains to be seen how McNulty, who already had form in Italy with a win at the 2019 Giro di Sicilia, and Formolo, who has two Giro top 10s to his name, will work out their co-leadership, but the young American said a stage win would be more than welcome.
He finished second, 19 seconds behind Peter Sagan, on stage 10 last October, also taking third place in the mid-race time trial, 1:09 down on a rampant Filippo Ganna.
"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.
"The Giro was a good first Grand Tour for me. It was super hard. I think the Giro notoriously has longer days than other Grand Tours, but I think I surprised myself a few times so hopefully I can build on that."
McNulty will make his season bow at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and had been due to race the Volta ao Algarve before its postponement. Strade Bianche, the Volta a Catalunya, and the Tour of the Alps are also on his spring calendar.
As a rider displaying impressive progress year-on-year so far in his young career, it wouldn't be a surprise to see McNulty adding to his palmarés before the Giro. He noted, however, that any pressure to get results only comes from himself, rather than looking at the likes of Pogačar or Remco Evenepoel and trying to keep up.
"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.
"I think I'm still discovering where my top strengths are. For me, the time trial has always been a big focus for me, but I've been trying to get better and better at climbing at the front so hopefully I keep getting better at everything."
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