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Photo: LaPresse - Massimo Paolone (FILE)

McNulty will get shot to start a grand tour in 2020

UAE-Team Emirates plan to give the 21-year-old opportunity and exposure while not piling on the pressure too early.

Brandon McNulty, the highly touted all-rounder heading to UAE-Team Emirates in 2020, will have a shot at a grand tour in his rookie WorldTour season.

Team officials told VeloNews the 21-year-old will have a “complete” racing schedule next season, with plenty of chances to test his mettle in a variety of races, including one of cycling’s three-week grand tours.

“I’ve already spoken with Brandon and we’d like that he can test himself in a grand tour, be it a Giro or Vuelta,” said Matxin Joxean Fernández, lead sport director at UAE-Team Emirates. “Later we’ll see his evolution. We want him to have the room to race in big races, without unnecessary pressure, but to be able to get a taste of these more important events.”

That decision to schedule a grand tour in what will be his rookie WorldTour season reveals how much confidence the team has in McNulty, who joins on a three-year deal after racing with success at Rally-UHC for three seasons.

Fernández said the team will round out calendars for its 2020 lineup in the coming weeks. The Spanish sport director said he’s impressed with McNulty’s potential.

Fernández, who first opened up contact with McNulty when he spotted him at the 2015 world championships in Richmond, said that the American has the skillset to achieve “big things” in cycling.

“He is a modern rider. He’s a climber who rides well in the time trial,” Fernández told VeloNews. “On paper, he has all the potential to be a big rider. Right now, we want him to get a taste of everything, and then he can tell us what motivates and excites him most, and we can work together in that direction.

McNulty’s ability to climb and race against the clock made him an appealing prospect for UAE-Team Emirates. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

“Looking at his characteristics right now, without a doubt, he could be a contender for one-week stage races,” Fernández continued. “And then we’ll see after he tries a few grand tours if he has the important ability to recover to try to one day work to become a leader in a grand tour.”

That’s heady stuff for McNulty who headlines a new wave of American elite men riders entering the WorldTour for 2020. Other Americans making the leap to the top tier include Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), and Ian Garrison (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).

Of the “Class of 2020,” McNulty is the most experienced. He’s already seen plenty of European race days, including a stage win and the overall at the Giro di Sicilia in May.

Fernández said he’s been watching McNulty’s progress with interest ever since he spotted him during the 2015 Richmond world championships, where McNulty finished third in the junior men’s time trial. Fernández stayed in touch, and revealed that he offered McNulty a WorldTour contract for 2019.

“I’ve always had a bit of contact with him, asking about his future plans, and how things are going,” he said. “Last year we already spoke with him about joining our team, but he felt he wanted one more season at the [Professional-Continental] level to continue to improve, and maybe it was the right call. Now it’s the right time to make the move to the WorldTour.”

McNulty asked to stay at Pro Conti level one more year before stepping up to the top tier. Photo: Wil Matthews

Fernández cautioned that the team will not pile pressure on McNulty and promised to give him what the Spanish director called “space” and “support” to learn the ropes. After considering offers, McNulty made the decision to join UAE-Emirates in a deal through the 2022 season.

“We are going to offer him all the tools he needs to improve. Not only a strong team and a good calendar, but also something that is not spoken about much in professional cycling, but cariño,” said Fernández, citing a Spanish term for support and affection.

“I don’t want to push him or pressure him into doing something that he doesn’t want to do or even perhaps he’s not capable of doing,” Fernández continued. “But at the same time, we want him to push himself and take some risks just to see if he can fulfill his full potential as a rider.”

Fernández said McNulty has all the characteristics to emerge as a star rider, and said he need look no further than future teammate Tadej Pogačar as a role model. The Slovenian enjoyed a breakout year during his rookie season by delivering on chances to shine at the top level.

“We want to do just like we did with Tadej,” he said. “It’s a fine line between having pressure, and having challenges and goals. Just look at Pogačar — he is a young rider who is getting chances to test himself, and he’s doing it without having unrealistic pressure or expectations. If a young rider doesn’t have his best day, that does not matter in the least. What’s most important is that they are trying, and the rider knows they can count on the full support of the team.”

“We wanted Brandon,” Fernández concluded. “Not only for today, but for the future.”