Vuelta a España: Brandon McNulty granted greater freedom than at Tour de France

'I want to compete in the grand tour game one day, whenever it comes,' says American rider.

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UAE Team Emirates heads into the Vuelta a España with João Almeida as the team’s GC card and Pascal Ackermann as the designated sprinter but American Brandon McNulty still has a vital role to play and will be granted a degree of freedom.

McNulty raced the Tour de France in July and supported Tadej Pogačar to second place overall with some punchy displays in the mountains. After a brief trip home to the US to recuperate McNulty, is back in Europe for Friday’s team time trial at the Vuelta, and the 24-year-old is eager to get off on the right foot.

“I think that I’m ready and we’ll see how it goes. We’ve got Almeida as our leader for now and then we’ll see how the race plays out. Me and the team would like to stay as close to the GC for as long as possible. It would be good to have a second option, just to race tactically but we’ll see how everything goes,” McNulty told VeloNews from his hotel room in Utrecht.

“I feel good mentally. It’s tough but I feel like I came out of the Tour de France well and that I’ve recovered. In theory, I should be in good shape if I’m not tired after a week or two but I’m excited.”

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McNulty came out of the Tour de France with mixed emotions. On a personal level, he was pleased with his performance throughout the race. The downside was that Pogačar failed to retain his title for a third straight year. It doesn’t appear as though UAE Team Emirates is suffering from a post-Tour hangover, with the team dialed in around new objectives.

“I think we’re racing as normal. You take luck as it comes and goes and you can’t really let it set the mood for the next few races. Everyone comes in optimistic and we’re here to give our best,” McNulty said.

“On a personal level, I was pleased with how I raced. Overall we didn’t win and that was a bummer but I took a big step in my performance in the mountains. I took a lot of confidence from it.”

Whether this Vuelta a España – McNulty’s first outing at the race – represents a chance for him to improve on his 15th from the Giro d’Italia a few years ago is still unclear. Almeida starts as the main leader, although there are questions over his long-term form given his lack of racing since abandoning the Giro in May due to COVID. The Portuguese rider bounced back in early August to win a stage and take second overall at the Vuelta a Burgos but a grand tour represents a far sterner test of both form and fitness.

For McNulty, the plan heading into the Vuelta is to remain in contention, and then see how the race develops once it heads from the Netherlands and back into Spain.

“Hopefully I can take a step in the three-week game. I want to compete in the grand tour game one day, whenever it comes, but this will be a more open race, and we’re a bit more open on the team so it will be nice to give it a shot and see how it goes, rather than being solely domestique. I think I’ve got more freedom. We’ve got Almeida but we’ll see how that goes.”

The race begins with a team time trial in Utrecht on Friday, and that will be a new experience for many members of the peloton. McNulty, like a number of his peers, has not raced a TTT in the pro ranks before. The American’s only outing in a TTT came in 2018 at the Tour de l’Avenir.

“We’ll go full gas and see how it ends. Most of us haven’t done so but I think a lot of teams are in that situation now. Everyone has been figuring it out at the last minute so it will be interesting. If it rains it will be a little bit dangerous. My main goal is staying upright.”

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