Giro d'Italia

Brandon McNulty surges into podium contention after Giro d’Italia’s second ITT

Cycling's 'Gen Z' continues to shine at the Giro d'Italia as Brandon McNulty and João Almeida score top finishes during the second ITT.

Many expected the grizzled veterans to dominate the 2020 Giro d’Italia. And with a week of racing to go, they still might come out on top.

The likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) can’t afford to wait around too much longer. Mirroring a trend over the past few seasons, young and highly talented riders are leaving their mark on the Italian grand tour, and time is running out for the old guys.

Grand tour rookies João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Brandon McNulty (UAE-Emirates) continue to surprise two weeks into what’s already been a grueling and challenging Giro.

Almeida defended his pink jersey in Saturday’s 34.1km time trial while American rider McNulty surged into fourth place after finishing fastest among the GC contenders.

“Warming up beforehand my legs felt really bad so I didn’t know how I would go. When I was close to [Filippo] Ganna on the splits, I knew I was on a good day,” said McNulty, who stopped the clock in third at 1:09 behind winner Ganna. “Matxin [sport director Joxean Fernández] told me last night that he thought I could move into fifth, I thought that if I did a really good day I could get fourth.”

McNulty’s steady upward trajectory has been impressive, and he’s moved up from 18th after stage 5 to slot into fourth overall at 2:23 behind Almeida after the dust settled Saturday in stage 14.

Sunday’s difficult uphill finale at Piancavallo will be hard for all the GC contenders after everyone dug deep in the decisive individual time trial around the hills of Italy’s prosecco region, the longest of three tests against the clock in this year’s Giro.

McNulty continues to impress in his grand tour debut. After a strong start in Sicily, he struggled in stage 5, and tumbled nearly out of the top-20. The 22-year-old remained patient, and kept chipping away. He was second in stage 10 behind Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and sixth two days later.

“For the rest of the race, I think I stand a good chance on the climbs and then there’s one last TT in Milan so it’s another good opportunity for me,” McNulty said. “Every day is a surprise to me because I’ve never done a race this long, but so far I keep getting better, so it’s good.”

On Saturday, McNulty confirmed his TT chops at the WorldTour level, and was strongest among the main GC contenders. The Arizona product was 22 seconds faster than Almeida, 38 seconds than Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), and 1:45 faster than Nibali. McNulty took a full two minutes out of Fuglsang as the Dane tumbled to 12th overall, now at 4:08 back.

After a strong ride, McNulty bounded upward seven spots to settle into fourth, just 12 seconds behind third-place Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren).

“The podium? Hopefully,” McNulty said when asked if he could finish on the final podium in Milano on October 25. “If I’m able to beat the GC guys at this, I think I’ll stand a good chance on the climbs, too. And there’s one last TT in Milano, and it’s quite flat, and that’s one last opportunity for me. We’ll see.”

Almeida, meanwhile, also continues to shine, and widened his lead following a strong sixth-place ride while riding decked out head to toe in pink.

“I did better than I thought. I’m so happy with the result,” Almeida said. “In the end it was very positive today.”

Looking to spoil the Gen Z coming out party will be Kelderman, now second at 58 seconds back. Nibali, who’s made a career of late-race comebacks, is lurking in fifth at 2:30 back.

With the threat of winter weather possibly forcing rerouting of decisive mountain stages in the final week, GC favorites will need to take it to Almeida on Sunday. The 185km features three second-category climbs before the final first-category assault on Piancavallo summit (14.3km at 7.1 percent).

Like McNulty, Almeida’s confidence seems to be growing by the day.

“So far, I have been a good climber. It will be a hard day,” Almeida said. “I have a minute to Kelderman, so I can take it easy and go easy and do my climb as well. We start tomorrow with no pressure.”