The UAE-Team Emirates grand tour rookie catapulted up the GC rankings following his impressive time trial performance Saturday to slot into fourth overall. Going into Sunday’s 185km, four-climb stage, McNulty was still buzzing from his blazing ride against the clock.
“It was a good night last night, everyone was really supportive,” McNulty said at the start at the Rivolto airbase. “It’s super exciting to be behind some world-class time trialists, so it was a great day.”
The 22-year-old starts Sunday’s decisive climbing stage in an ideal position. On Saturday, he was third on the stage — fastest among the GC contenders — and dashed seven GC spots higher to move into fourth at 2:23 behind race-leader João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step). That slots him only 12 seconds off the virtual Giro podium.
With the Giro’s imposing final week still looming, McNulty was hoping to consolidate his gains in Sunday’s sharp uphill finale.
“I hope to defend the top-5 position and hopefully move up by the end of next week,” McNulty said. “We’ll see [how much of a climber I am]. I don’t know. I think today just staying as close as possible to the leaders for now, and next week will be the true test.”
It’s hard to say how much damage the Piancavallo climb will do. At 14.1km at 7.1 percent, it’s the most challenging summit finale so far in this Giro. It will sting even more, coming at the end of two weeks of challenging racing, and legs will be tired.
In the past, the summit has produced some fireworks. Mikel Landa won a stage there in 2017, just two days before Tom Dumoulin beat back Nairo Quintana in the final-day time trial in Milano to win the pink jersey. Marco Pantani won there in 1998 en route to his double season, winning the Giro and Tour de France in the same year.
Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), second overall at 58 seconds back, said he doesn’t expect the climb to produce major differences among the top GC favorites.
“I think the climb is not so long to get big gaps, but we’ll see. We’ll try,” said Kelderman, who also posted a strong time trial Saturday. “GC now looks good. I’m happy that I gained some time on other GC contenders. Only Almeida was a bit faster. He’s doing really well, he’s super good, and he’s still in first in GC, so he’s the man to beat.”
For McNulty, who is making his WorldTour debut with panache so far in 2020, there’s an extra bonus in Sunday’s stage.
With Almeida, also 22, wearing the race leader’s pink jersey, McNulty will don the Giro’s white jersey of the best young rider. McNulty is ranked second in the youth category, but he will wear the jersey throughout Sunday’s stage.
“It’s super exciting [to wear the maglia bianca] even though it’s totally not my jersey,” he said. “It’s always cool to wear one of the leader’s jerseys in a grand tour.”
If McNulty keeps his upward mobility, he might be wearing some of the jerseys for real before this Giro d’Italia concludes next Sunday in Milano.