Defeats are never easy to take, but Brandon McNulty (UAE Emirates) nonetheless came away with multiple positives on Monday after he came within two seconds of a surprise win in the opening stage 1 of La Itzulia Basque Country, only to be defeated by favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).
Last year in the Giro d'Italia, McNulty claimed a notable second last year behind Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) on stage 10, as well as a third place in the Valdobiaddene time trial on stage 14 behind Ineos Grenadiers specialists of the calibre of Filippo Ganna and Rohan Dennis.
After marking the fastest time on the early part of the technical, double-climbing course on La Itzulia’s opening stage, five seconds up on Roglič, he finally finished a mere two seconds adrift of the Slovenian’s winning time in the runner-up spot. McNulty’s near miss in Bilbao could arguably mark a new high point in the WorldTour for the 23-year-old from Arizona.
“It was pretty much a case of going full gas on the first climb, keeping going full, then recovering a bit on the descent, and doing all out to the finish,” the former junior time trial world champion told reporters afterwards.
“We’ll have to see what happens now. I’m really happy with this result. Obviously I got close to the win which would have been amazing, but I gave it my all, so no regrets.”
McNulty has already turned in two solid fourth places in the previous WorldTour time trials he’s ridden this season. One was in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya where he was one of the few riders to withstand a strong collective performance by Ineos Grenadiers that laid the foundations of their top three places on GC. The other was in Paris-Nice, where he was just three seconds slower than none other than Roglič, again.
Although he was a DNF at Paris-Nice on stage 6, and dropped down from second overall to 13th in the Volta’s Pyrenean mountain stages which followed the day two time trial, McNulty feels that he could play “a double approach” in the Itzulia Basque Country. And it may be that the hillier terrain, rather than the all-out major mountains of Catalonia, could favour him.
“We’re in a really good situation now with me and Tadej both high up on GC,” said McNulty, who holds the Best Young Rider’s jersey in La Itzulia after stage 1, too. “Obviously he can climb quite well and I’m looking forward to the days ahead.”
Whatever the outcome, after the Itzulia Basque Country the two teammates will go their separate ways, as McNulty heads for “training and then onto the Giro,” while Pogačar will return to the Ardennes and begin his build-up for the Tour. But either way, the next five stages could see the American and Slovenian play an interesting two-hander.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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