DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (VN) — Brandon McNulty came agonizingly close to victory Friday at the Dubai Tour, only to be caught by a surging pack on the steep drag to the line.
“I hit a hundred to go, and I thought I wasn’t [going to get caught] and then all the sudden, the wall hit. I looked back and they were there, and I knew it was pretty short-lived,” Rally’s McNulty said, even managing a laugh after the stage 4 finish.
The American was one of several riders in a strong breakaway move on the event’s queen stage. His teammate Robin Carpenter spent most of the day alongside him. As the rest of the break began falling off the pace one by one in the closing kilometers, McNulty rode on without showing signs of fatigue. Eventually, he was the last man standing.
He hit the 400-meter final climb with over half a minute’s advantage, but the brutal gradients proved just too much. Bahrain-Merida’s Sonny Colbrelli led the pack past McNulty in the closing meters and took the stage 4 win. McNulty finished 21st.
McNulty, 19, could be forgiven if he let exhaustion or heartbreak get the better of him atop Hatta Dam. Instead, his face showed what could only be described as a wry smile.
Rather than dwelling on the loss, McNulty focused on the positives.
“It was a good day. To get caught in the last 15 meters is nothing to complain about for someone my age, I guess. Just looking forward to tomorrow and [the Tour of] Oman,” he said.
McNulty admitted he got his hopes up on the run-in to the climb, but he had no trouble joking about it even just five minutes after the finish.
“I really did [believe], and then I guess I didn’t realize how steep this was. My legs kind of cramped up and that was it,” he said.
“It was an ‘oh s—t’ moment.”
With Rally making the jump to the Pro Continental level this year, the Dubai Tour marks McNulty’s first race as a member of cycling’s second-highest racing division. The uber-talented youngster, silver medalist in the under-23 time trial at 2017 worlds, isn’t wasting any time getting the jersey in front of the cameras.
That enthusiasm shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sport director Eric Wohlberg described Rally’s approach in these first few months of Pro Continental racing as an ambitious one.
“Once the flag gets dropped, it’s friggin’ go time,” he told VeloNews before Friday’s stage.
McNulty’s gutsy ride through the desert heat fits with Wohlberg’s plans for the team this week in the Middle East. It’s going to take time for Rally to adjust to racing in a field of WorldTour talent. It’s also going to take time for those WorldTour squads to give Rally respect in the hectic pointy end of a race.
The only way to get there is to jump in with both feet.
“We like to dive off the diving board with cement blocks attached to our legs and go straight into the deep end,” Wohlberg said. “Of course that’s a bit of a joke but we’re really trying to ramp it up at a pretty high rate here.”
McNulty may not have much to show for his efforts, but the results sheet isn’t everything. Considering his age and his squad’s longer-term goals, McNulty had plenty of reasons to be pleased Friday.
“It was a great day for the team. It was great having Robin [Carpenter] up there with me. He did everything to set me up to go off solo in the last 15k or so,” he said.
“I still put myself out there and showed how strong I was, so I’m still happy.”