McNulty third in San Juan mountain test as Evenepoel retains lead

Evenepoel hangs on to race lead after being distanced in crosswinds, McNulty shows promise with aggressive performance in his debut WorldTour summit finish.

It didn’t take long for Brandon McNulty to make his presence felt.

In his first season in the WorldTour, the American all-rounder is within podium range at the Vuelta a San Juan after a solid outing on the key climbing summit in stage 5.

McNulty, making his season debut with UAE-Team Emirates, was third on the Alto Colorado summit, and moved up to fourth overall with two stages to go.

“It’s still January,” McNulty said. “I think my sprint for that kind of finish isn’t quite there yet, so all things considered, I’m pleased with third.”

On the key climbing stage of the Argentine race, UAE-Team Emirates lit up the stage with 35km to go. Under pressure from UAE-Team Emirates, the pack split, and overnight leader Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was even momentarily gapped out.

On the lower flanks of the climb, McNulty moved clear with Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), though open and exposed roads saw the peloton bring them back. Colombian Miguel Flores (Androni) jumped clear for the win in the closing few hundred yards, while McNulty had the legs to finish off third behind Oscar Sevilla (Medellin) in the sprint.

“We knew there was a chance it would split up in the crosswind so we were very attentive to that,” McNulty said. “The guys were in a great position and drove it on putting the other favorites in danger. It was quite hectic so [Max] Richeze and the other guys were really helping me. I knew there was a gap at that point but I was thinking more about the stage win.”

Evenepoel was over one minute back after being caught out in the split and at risk of losing his overnight 33-second lead on GC. With 20km to go, he struck out solo to slowly winch his way back toward the front group to finish fifth on the stage, just four seconds behind race-winner Florez.

Evenepoel’s impressive ride means he retains the overall leader’s jersey, with Filippo Ganna, riding on an Italian composite team, sitting second at 33 seconds back. Sevilla remained in third, at 1:01 back, with McNulty climbing into fourth overall at 1:21 back.

Stage 6 starts and finishes in the Autódromo El Villicúm, with a slight rise to the finish which should be another opportunity for the in-form Fernando Gaviria. The finale is a circuit course in San Juan, so the GC shouldn’t change that much.

It’s been a solid season debut for the Rally-UHC product, and McNulty will return to Europe to race at the Ruta del Sol before making his 2020 WorldTour debut at Paris-Nice.