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Brandon McNulty is aiming to ride two grand tours in 2022.
The American rider is scheduled to follow his team leader Tadej Pogačar to the Tour de France and Vuelta a España this season.
It will be “all hands on deck” for the Slovenian as he aims to take his third consecutive Tour title, but McNulty is hoping that he will have an opportunity to ride for himself at the Spanish grand tour.
“This will be the first year to do two grand tours,” McNulty said in a call from UAE-Team Emirates’ training camp in Spain. “Obviously, if Tadej is leading the Vuelta after the Tour, yeah, you’ve got to ride for the team. It would be nice to have more freedom.
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“It’s the end of the year and everyone is a bit more tired so we will have to see how things play out in the race. It’d be really great to have some opportunities.”
McNulty’s year hasn’t gotten off to the best start with a stomach complaint keeping him off the bike for a few days at the beginning of the UAE training camp. He’s back to training now, though and he hopes that the brief illness won’t impact his opening races.
The 23-year-old is set to begin racing in just over a month’s time at the Volta ao Algarve, which he is looking to target as a personal GC opportunity. His path towards the Tour de France will see him pick off a number of major one-week races, where he wants to build on his performances from 2021.
“I wasn’t able to ride for a day or two, and I’m still not feeling great. Every day is better, though,” he said. “Luckily, I had a really good training block at home before I came, so I’m not missing too much.”
“I will target Algarve first and then Paris-Nice and at [the Tour de] Romandie I will probably have some freedom. Those are the big ones.”
McNulty may have some stiffer competition in search of GC opportunities following a big influx of climbers on the team’s roster. João Almeida, George Bennett, and Marc Soler are all on the team for this season, something McNulty believes will force everyone to improve.
“I think it’s a big step up for the team. There’s a lot of really high-quality riders. It’s always good to get the level higher and higher in the team, which will raise up everyone’s performance. So, it’s exciting,” he said.
Learning and improving
McNulty is entering his third year as a WorldTour rider after stepping up with UAE in 2020. Following a solid first year at the top, he went into last season with more expectations on his shoulders.
He delivered early on with some strong performances at Paris-Nice — before he crashed out on stage 6 — and the Volta a Catalunya. His breakthrough performance came at the Itzulia Basque Country, where he went into the final stage in the leader’s jersey. Despite exploding under the pressure of Primož Roglič’s do-or-die attack, it earned him his Tour de France debut.
There was a lot to glean from his 2021 season and to build upon for this year.
“It was my first year doing a full WorldTour program. So, it’s nice to have one-week races in doing the tour was a huge learning experience and also at [Itzulia Basque Country]. Riding leader jersey at a WorldTour race, there’s a lot to take from that. So, there’s a lot of positives from the last year to put into this year,” McNulty said.
“I don’t know if I would change much but I just want to keep improving on my climbing abilities. I think my TT kind of really came in this year. With a little bit of improvement there I think I could be close to some victories. There’s some other stuff like the long mountains. I think I have some really good GC chances at the highest races.”
McNulty’s step up in 2021 was part of an annus mirabilis for US men in the WorldTour. In addition to McNulty’s performances, last year also saw Sepp Kuss win a stage of the Tour de France — the first for an American in a decade — and Neilson Powless win San Sebastián before taking fifth in the worlds road race.
“It’s really exciting actually, for everyone,” he said. “Sepp and Neilson are guys that I’ve raced with for a long time. It’s really nice to have more U.S. presence at the top-level races. I mean there’s no reason why we won’t continue and I think there’s more talent just below us so maybe it’s kind of looking up for the U.S. as of now at least.”