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Brandon McNulty wants to focus on one-week races in 2023

The 24-year-old eyes up a return to Itzulia Basque country after missing out due to COVID in 2022.

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Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) wants to focus on one-week stage races in 2023.

The 24-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona sought to step up in grand tours last year but suffered a disappointing performance at the Vuelta a España, where he was due to get a shot at GC.

This season, he’s still interested in getting his grand tour opportunities but he’d prefer to go for a stage win and put his efforts into going for a weeklong contest, like the UAE Tour and Itzulia Basque Country.

“I think that I’ll focus on the GC in the one-weekers and then I’d like to have some opportunity for a stage in a grand tour, I think that’s realistic,” McNulty told VeloNews. “I like to at least go for some results in the one-week stage races, and then we’ll see which grand tour I do but I still kind of up in the air.

“I like to go for Basque again. I had a really good performance there a couple of years ago, so it’d be nice to see if I can repeat something similar and at least go for a podium or something. I think that’d be it’d be a good target for me.”

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McNulty comes into this season after an up-and-down 2022 season. He notched up his first victory for UAE Team Emirates at the Trofeo Calvia and went on to take two more before March was out at the Faun-Ardèche Classic and a stage of Paris-Nice, as well as finishing runner-up at the Volta ao Algarve.

A couple of disappointing days at Paris-Nice would prevent McNulty from finishing higher than 12th in the GC, while illness complicated the rest of his spring.

He went on to put in a star turn at the Tour de France in support of Tadej Pogačar, but the season ended on a sour note at the Vuelta.

“I think it was mixed with positive, more leaning towards positive,” McNulty said of his 2022 campaign. “I had a really bad Vuelta, so it kind of left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It’s easy to forget when you have a good year, and you end on a bad note and you think the whole year sucked, but it was still a positive year.

“It was nice starting off with a win, even though it wasn’t a huge race. That was also my first win on the team. Some of the days in the Tour that we did well were also really fun.”

Stepping up

Outside of his early-season victories, McNulty’s Tour de France ride was probably one of the highlights of his year. With COVID and injury taking a hatchet to Pogačar’s support squad, pressure was piled on those that remained with just Mikkel Bjerg, Marc Hirschi, and McNulty making it to Paris alongside their team leader.

McNulty stepped up in the mountains and earned the daily most aggressive prize on stage 17 after pulling a monster turn and ultimately taking third on the stage behind Pogačar and eventual winner Jonas Vingegaard.

It’s that kind of performance that McNulty would like to find more of as he steps into 2023.

His season got off to a rocky start with a crash on wet roads at the Trofeo Calvia on Wednesday, but McNulty will be back in the saddle Friday.

“Hopefully, I can be a bit more consistent with that kind of level. But that’s kind of where I need to improve now is the day in and day out riding like that,” he said of his Tour ride.

“I think I stepped up a lot climbing wise I was there more mountain days in the Tour and I was there later. Also, in some of the early races where I was racing for myself, I think I definitely stepped up. It was nice to see that for myself.”

Despite his disappointing Vuelta a España, McNulty remains one of America’s best general classification prospects, alongside the likes of Sepp Kuss, Neilson Powless, and Matteo Jorgenson. It has been 10 years since a U.S. rider hit the podium of a three-week race and it’s nine years since an American won a WorldTour stage race.

McNulty feels the hope and expectation for a U.S. rider to get onto that podium again, but he says he’s just focused on getting the wins he really wants.

“I think it’s maybe more pressure from myself,” he said. “Of course, everyone in the U.S. wants the next GC star, but that’s difficult. Everyone knows that going for GC in a grand tour is horrible. After doing it, I’ve already done four now, it’s a really big step to make. It’s easier said than done. I’m more focused on myself and just trying to win races or do well, really at any level at this point.”

While many of the major stars in cycling are quite young, there is still room for riders to develop at a slower pace. At 24, McNulty still has time to develop as a rider and he’s keen to push his GC capabilities as well as look at some of the major one-day races on the calendar.

“I’d like to see how far I can make as a GC rider. It’s a huge level you need but I also think I have some of the qualities at least,” McNulty said. “I’d also like to see if I can win in the Ardennes races one year. I think I’ve had quite a few good one-day results now in smaller races, and it’d be interesting to explore it, but I’m kind of still just wanting to do well everywhere.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.