For the first time in three years, Brandon McNulty (USA) missed the podium in the individual time trial at the UCI Road World Championships. The 2016 junior world champion and last year's silver medalist in the U23 ranks had no answers to the questions of journalists surprised to see him finish 53 seconds behind winner Mikkel Bjerg (Denmark) in seventh place on Monday.
"It's pretty frustrating. Everything felt right, I just wasn't going fast I guess," McNulty dead-panned.
One journalist suggested the wind might have changed for the later starters. "It's hard to say if the wind changed or not. If everyone at the end was struggling then maybe it did. I'm not sure though," McNulty said.
Was it the matter of a heavier season of racing and fatigue? McNulty didn't think so. "I think the power was there, I just don't know where the speed was. Obviously, I've done a lot this year so you never know how you'll be this time of year. I felt good.
"I think since it's so late in the year, I had so many goals earlier this year it was hard to solely focus on this - but based on my pedigree I'd like to do well in the TT."
McNulty started the year with Rally Cycling in the Dubai Tour in February, then did a block of racing in Spain and Portugal where he racked up some solid results including a fifth place overall in the UCI 2.1-ranked GP Beiras e Serra da Estrela. He then went on to his main goal, the Tour of California, where he again finished inside the top 10, in seventh overall.
More recently, he was third overall in the Tour Alsace, narrowly missed a stage win in the Tour de l'Avenir to Ivan Sosa, and cracked the top 20 in the WorldTour race in Montreal. He says he has good legs for hard one-day races now and is looking ahead to the U23 road race on Friday.
"Maybe after this, I will have a little extra fire," McNulty said. "I'm excited for the road race."
He will be joined in Team USA by Sean Bennett and Neilson Powless, both of whom have also been on good form of late. McNulty wouldn't say if he would be the team's sole leader or not.
"I think we have me, Bennett and Powless, are all really good. I have some good legs for a hard one-day race so we'll see how it goes.
McNulty is hoping for a "brutal day".
"I think all three of our guys prefer a selective group."
Like the three medalists in the U23 time trial - Bjerg, Belgian Brent Van Moer and Mathias Norsgaard, McNulty is sticking with his Pro Continental trade team, preferring to focus on gradually developing and getting results before moving up to the WorldTour. Toward that end, he expects to have a more European-centric programme next season.
"Our Rally program is growing significantly next year. We don't have specifics, but hopefully quite a bit more WorldTour and HC racing overseas and then obviously another big goal is ToCA, just being an American team. It should be a super good year next year."