Within minutes of starting his effort in the junior men's time trial at the UCI Road World Championships, it was already apparent that Brandon McNulty (USA) was in a race all of his own, though it would take a little longer for the man himself to realise as much.
The smoothness of McNulty's pedalling seemed like the tell-tale sign of a world champion in waiting, but it would take time for the clock to confirm what the eye already knew. The last man to start, McNulty, was quickest by just six seconds at the midpoint of the 28.9-kilometre course, but he upped the ante in the closing kilometres.
After catching and passing Alexys Brunel (France), who set out a minute before him, and then two-minute man Stefan Bissinger (Switzerland), McNulty finally began to understand that the rainbow jersey was all but his.
"When I caught the guy that started in front of me, that's when I knew I was putting out a pretty good ride. When I caught the Swiss guy, that's when I knew I was really going pretty good," McNulty said. "When I could see I was catching guys, that was good for my mentality."
With six kilometres remaining, McNulty's lead was up to 18 seconds, and it yawned inexorably upwards from there. He eventually stopped the clock 35 seconds quicker than Mikkel Bjerg (Denmark) and 53 seconds ahead of fellow countryman Ian Garrison.
A bronze medallist on home roads in Richmond last year, McNulty was the consensus favourite for victory in Doha at the end of a season that saw him land the prestigious Tour de l'Abitibi during the summer. "I knew I was capable of it," he said. "I don't feel too much outside pressure, but internally I just wanted to win so badly. But that wasn't a negative pressure, I was just trying to stay positive and motivated."
McNulty's victory bridges a nine-year gap to the last American to land the junior time trial world title, won by Taylor Phinney in Aguascalientes in 2007. Since then, Phinney, Lawson Craddock, Adrien Costa and McNulty have all landed medals in this event, but fallen short of the rainbow jersey.
"I'm excited. It's an amazing feeling. We've been shooting for this for the last few years, so to be the one who does it is incredible," says McNulty, who is just the third American male to win a junior world title on the road after Phinney and Greg LeMond, who landed the road race in 1979.
"Just looking back on the guys who've won in the past, it's a pretty elite group. It's impossible to describe what it feels like."
NcNulty undecided on 2017 team
McNulty had the relative handicap of rolling down the start ramp shortly after midday, with the sun at its peak. "An earlier start was something of an advantage for me," his teammate Harrison said. Even so, the soaring temperatures had already seen Jasper Philipsen (Belgium) taken away by ambulance to be treated for heatstroke, but McNulty, a native of the American Southwest, made relatively light work of the conditions.
"It was definitely toasty out, but my hometown is Phoenix, Arizona so it's very similar weather. I've kind of grown up in this kind of heat so it wasn't too big of a shock," McNulty said. "We knew what we were getting into. Ian and I had been doing some crazy heat acclimatisation these past few weeks too. It wasn't fun, but I felt pretty well acclimated and we were able to push through it."
Coached by Barney King, McNulty spent 2016 racing for the Lux-Stradling junior team, managed by the former La Vie Claire and 7-Eleven rider Roy Knickman. While Garrison has already signed on with Axel Merckx's Axeon squad for 2017, McNulty has yet to settle on his destination for his first season as an under-23 rider.
"We haven't decided on a team because my coach and I were basically focusing on the Worlds," McNulty said. "After this is when we'll start meeting with teams and making a decision. We've already been talking with people, so in a few weeks, we'll know."
On the evidence of these World Championships, the step up in level ought not to pose too many difficulties for McNulty, given that his time of 34:42 here would have been good enough to win the bronze medal on precisely the same course in the under-23 race on Monday.
And, lest it be forgotten, McNulty clocked his 49.964kph average while spinning a restricted gear of 52x14. Small wonder, then, that second-placed Mikkel Bjerg felt moved to place his own silver medal in context. "It almost feels like winning," he said. "Brandon was in a league of his own."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.