Barring disaster, the 23-year-old will line up alongside defending champion Tadej Pogačar as part of UAE Team Emirates’ Tour lineup in Brest, France, on June 26.
It’s heady stuff for the Arizonan product whom many see a future as a grand tour contender.
“I remember watching the Tour as a young kid,” McNulty told VeloNews. “My first memories were watching those Schleck-Contador years. I really liked Andy Schleck when I was a little kid, and that’s what sparked the dream. I thought, ‘I’d never be able to do that,’ but now, here we are.”
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Here we are, indeed.
The Tour bid is the next step in McNulty’s continued progression since joining the WorldTour in 2020.
The Tour de France is a dream for any professional, but McNulty’s fast track to the race as part of the team of the defending champion began months ago.
Conversations about the Tour began in earnest following his strong ride at Itzulia Basque Country, where he rode into the leader’s jersey going into the last stage. Though the wheels came off under a final-stage Jumbo-Visma raid, the chance to race the Tour was well on its way.
“There was always debate, even early on in the training camp, whether I’d do the Giro again on my own, or go to the Tour for Tadej,” McNulty said in a phone call. “Originally, the Giro was the decision, but the Basque Country went so well that we decided to switch to the Tour for Tadej.”
The team will be riding to support Pogačar in a bid to defend the yellow jersey. Though McNulty said the team has yet to outline its strategy, the goal is to protect their team captain all the way to Paris.
McNulty said his helper role will see him push into the mountains as far as he can to protect Pogačar from attacks from Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma, and the other challengers.
“We have the defending champ, but we’ll be riding for him, but you never know what opportunities might come up,” he said. “I’d love to help Tadej win another overall, and if I can go well in the time trials, then maybe if there is a chance for a stage, but that there are a lot of things needs to go right, so we’ll see.”
McNulty raced with Pogačar for the first time during the Basque Country tour and said the Slovenian — even younger than McNulty — is an inspiration for the entire team.
“He’s great on and off the bike,” McNulty said. “I think that a guy that good brings my level up and the whole team steps up a level or two when he is racing.”
McNulty continues to deliver surprises.
Last week at the Critérium du Dauphiné, McNulty showed off another skillset, and sprinted to third in stage 3. The next day, he reconfirmed his time trailing chops by riding to eighth on a challenging course against some of the best time trialists in the world.
— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) June 2, 2021
Last year’s strong ride at the Giro d’Italia — when he rode to 15th overall for the best U.S. grand tour debut in nearly 20 years — confirmed what McNulty already knew. He’s got the right skills to shine in grand tours.
“I think learning that I am capable of doing it,” McNulty said of his Giro takeaway. “When you’ve never raced three weeks, you have no idea if you can do it. Even just doing one grand tour, it’s a bit more familiar and you know how to save a bit more in the first week. Still, it’s only my second grand tour, so I am still learning a lot.”
Right now, his Tour debut is all about helping Pogačar and learning the ropes in cycling’s most important stage race.
Could McNulty be returning some day to lead a team? He refuses to look too far down the road, but admits that he loves grand tour racing based on what he’s seen so far.
“That’s direction is where I’d like to go,” McNulty said of his racing future. “I’m here to help Tadej and maybe go well in the time trials.”