In their second season at Pro Continental level, the Rally UHC team have been earning some big-ticket race invitations, with last Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne and June's Tour de Suisse. The race invitations are an opportunity for their riders to push themselves further out of their comfort zone and test themselves against the best the peloton has to offer.
It is a chance that their rising star Brandon McNulty is relishing. McNulty made his WorldTour debut at the Tour of California last season and subsequently rode the Canadian one-day races, but Flèche Wallonne and Suisse are a step further into the top level.
"I think it's huge," McNulty told Cyclingnews ahead of Flèche Wallonne. "The team has been building since it started, but particularly over the last couple of years. I think that this is a huge turning point as we continue. We have more WorldTour races later in the year so this is a pretty incredible start for us.
"Our later summer programme I don't think it has been fully confirmed but there might be some more WorldTour racing, I guess."
In between his visits to Europe, McNulty will return to the Tour of California in May, where he hopes to back up the impressive seventh place he took last year. In 2018, McNulty finished 3:28 behind the eventual winner Egan Bernal. He's confident about making it back into the top 10, but he's unsure how the lack of time trial will affect his chances. The Tour of California is not his biggest target in the first half of the year, with the Tour de Suisse to come afterwards.
"I think a top 10 will be a possibility again. Obviously, without a TT it's maybe a bit less in my favour but then again, last year I pretty much lost time because it was flat. We'll have to see," said McNulty.
"It's a huge race, but it's also a bit over-shadowed with [Flèche] and then Suisse right afterwards. The next three races will all be very important. I think the Tour de Suisse [is a bigger goal] because it’s an even bigger race."
It has already been a strong start to the year for McNulty with a top 10 placing at the Tour of Oman followed by his first professional victory at the inaugural Giro di Sicilia. The American broke away to take a commanding solo victory on the penultimate stage and won by a clear margin over his rivals.
"Oman was good and then Sicily couldn't have gone much better," McNulty said in his understated manner. "I knew that I was riding well but you never really know how the other guys will be, but it went really well. It's super exciting, super motivating to be racing with these guys but I knew that would be quite hard."
This is McNulty's second season as a professional after stepping up to Pro Continental level with Rally last year. He is still just 21 – having had his birthday earlier this month – and he's still learning and developing as a rider.
"I don't think that there have been necessarily any changes it’s just doing the same thing to improve over the years and building, slowly getting better and getting more intelligent as a racer," he explained. "I think that recovery, obviously as you get older that will improve and then I think I've improved a bit in the harder one to three-minute efforts. Hopefully, it will pay off."