The 22-year-old lines up Saturday with a UAE-Emirates team hot off overall victory at the Tour de France. Yellow-jersey winner Tadej Pogačar will be cooling his jets, meaning that McNulty and others racing the Giro won’t be tethered to a GC leash.
“It’s time for the big one,” McNulty told VeloNews. “I had a nice training block going into the worlds. I’m definitely excited to see how I can do.”
So is everyone else.
McNulty will have the opportunity to follow the wheels and see how far he can go in his first three-week grand tour.
UAE-Emirates is bringing a mixed team to the Giro without a designated GC leader. Diego Ulissi and Fernando Gaviria will be in the hunt for stage wins, with fellow American Joe Dombrowski having his chances to chase victories in the mountains.
That means McNulty can race the Giro without pressure to work for others, and will be able to ease into grand tour racing on his own terms.
“We want to give young Brandon McNulty a chance to shine and see what he can do,” said UAE-Emirates manager Joxean Fernández, “but without any pressure or concrete goals other than to give his best.”
That nurturing attitude already paid huge dividends last month for UAE-Emirates, which delivered one of the biggest late-race reversals in Tour history when Pogačar upended Jumbo-Visma to win the yellow jersey.
McNulty knows Pogačar from when they were racing together as spritely teenagers. McNulty was 30th the year that Pogačar won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2018, and they were both born in the same year.
The team’s Tour victory is still buzzing among the staffers and riders, and that momentum will carry over into the Italian grand tour.
“The morale of the team is really good,” McNulty said. “Everyone is super-excited and it’s a really good environment.”
McNulty laughed when asked if he was going to follow in the footsteps of Pogačar, who blasted through his grand tour debut last year with three stage victories and third-place overall at the Vuelta a España.
“A dream would be to win a stage and finish on the podium,” he joked. “The reality is I just hope to make it to the finish.”
Of course, he expects more than that.
The team will rally around McNulty and another grand tour rookie with Mikkel Bjerg, the three-time U23 world time trial champion.
“We have two very young talented guys in Brandon and Mikkel who are doing their first Giro,” Ulissi said. “It will be nice to try and help them and share my experience.”
McNulty made the jump to the WorldTour in 2020, deciding to race one more season on the U.S. scene with Rally-UHC before making the leap full-time to Europe. That bet paid off when he won the Giro di Sicilia in the spring of 2019.
Things started off with a bang in 2020, with McNulty just missing the podium in fourth at the Vuelta a San Juan, and finishing seventh at Ruta del Sol, where he moved up three spots on GC on the final-day time trial.
Then came COVID-19, and his WorldTour season debut was stuck in its tracks.
After returning to his home in Arizona and a stint at altitude in Colorado, he returned to Europe in July. He’s since raced the Tour of Poland and the Tour du Limousin, along with Il Lombardia and the world championships last week in Italy.
Originally he expected to race the Vuelta a España, but the refitted racing calendar means that the Giro will see him make his debut.
Many believe McNulty could develop into a grand tour contender in the coming years. He’s a powerful climber who time trials very well, and it’s that combination that typically translates into grand tour success. McNulty knows he is only beginning his grand tour journey and admits there is a lot of hard work ahead of him.
Fernández started to watch McNulty’s progress at the 2015 worlds in Richmond, Virginia, and stayed in touch with the U.S. rider until convincing him to join the team in 2020 on a three-year contract.
“He is a modern rider. He’s a climber who rides well in the time trial,” Fernández said. “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 is among a strong U.S. contingent in the Giro this year. And many see him as one of the leading lights in a new generation entering the American peloton. Neilson Powless (EF Education First) recently completed his first Tour, while Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) has already established himself as one of the top climbers in the peloton.
Right now, McNulty is keeping his feet on the ground, and his eye on the road.
“I want to learn as much as I can and help the team,” McNulty said. “The way I was riding in training was exciting for me. It’s some of the best numbers I’ve ever produced.”