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The American was called up at the last minute to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège to replace defending champion Tadej Pogačar after he had to return home for a family emergency earlier this week.
McNulty hasn’t raced since Paris-Nice at the beginning of March after he was forced to skip Itzulia Basque Country at the start of month after testing positive for coronavirus. He was due to return to racing action at the Tour de Romandie next week but had to throw together a travel bag for Belgium after the late call.
“I got the call the other day in the middle of my ride, so I was a bit stressed to get home and get packed. It’s good to be here and back to racing a little earlier than expected,” McNulty told CyclingPro.net at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège team presentation Saturday.
“It’s kind of a test for me coming off COVID so it’s kind of an unknown. Training is a bit hit and miss some days, but it will be a nice test to get the legs going before Romandie. It’ll be nice to see how it goes.”
Despite missing the defending champion in Pogačar, the team still has hopes that it can challenge for the victory with the likes of Marc Hirshi — the de facto team leader with the Slovenian gone — Marc Soler, and Diego Ulissi.
It remains to be seen what McNulty can do given that this is only his second Liège-Bastogne-Liège and he was unable to finish the race last year.
“We wish the best for Tadej but the guys here are still in good spirits and we’re ready to race and do everything we can,” McNulty said. “I think we’ll look to Marc. He’s riding well and we’ll see how I go. If I can make it into the final then I hope to feature somewhat. We’ll have to see how it plays out. It’s a long day.”
Liège-Bastogne-Liège was to be the final race of Pogačar’s spring campaign after racing a short period on the cobbles, where he took fourth at the Tour of Flanders, and then in the Ardennes. However, he flew home to Slovenia on Friday to support his fiancée Urška Žigart following the death of her mother.
“It’s a very difficult moment for him. Of course, for us, the human side is very important. We have a good team, we are here to try to win the race but at the same time Tadej needs to take some time and dedicate his energy in another situation,” team CEO Mauro Gianetti said.
“This was the last goal of his spring, but the season is long and, in this moment, it’s not the most important thing for us. We take care of our rider and it’s not a discussion.”
Without Pogačar, UAE Team Emirates no longer has the big favorite for the race win, and it will likely change the complexion of the race.
“We are here with Marc Hirschi, McNulty, Soler, and with Ulissi and we have a good team to try and win the race,” Gianetti said. “Of course, it changes things a bit in the fact that the other riders can now take their opportunity. They are in good shape and a good condition and there’s a good opportunity to take the race. We will start with the same focus to try to win the race.”