Last year, UAE-Team Emirates unveiled its star talent Tadej Pogačar at the Vuelta a España.
For 2020, the squad has a similar plan for its new young star, American Brandon McNulty.
McNulty, 21, has a racing program aimed at the 2020 Vuelta, where he will hope to score top results in the individual time trials, and learn the nuances of grand tour racing.
“It’s a long way away, but if everything goes according to plan, we’re shooting for the Vuelta,” McNulty told VeloNews. “Right now I’m not targeting any specific parcours, it’s more about getting that kind of effort into my body.”
McNulty met with reporters during UAE-Team Emirates’s training camp in Spain this week, where he met many of his new teammates for the first time. The American is making the jump to the WorldTour in 2020 after scoring a bronze medal at the 2019 UCI Road World Championships in the individual time trial, and after he won the overall at the Tour of Sicily with Rally Pro Cycling.
McNulty has broad goals for his WorldTour debut. He’d love to land on the podium in an individual time trial, or even win a race.
He would love to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo, but realizes that his young age and the American team’s small size (just two men will attend the event) puts him at a disadvantage.
“If I come out and start winning every time trial, then it would be really cool to go [to the Olympics], but I’m not focusing the whole year around it,” McNulty said. “We only have two spots and [Joey] Rosskopf and [Chad] Haga and Lawson [Craddock] are all really good too.”
With so many unknown factors for his debut season, McNulty is giving himself somewhat modest expectations. He wants to learn from his more experienced teammates and test his body against the WorldTour peloton. He wants to race a bicycle for three weeks and see how his legs respond.
And he wants to lay the foundation for a WorldTour career that he hopes stretches far beyond one or two seasons.
“I think the way I’ve developed over the years has been in a linear progression,” McNulty said. “You don’t know how someone will do at [age 21], and the way your body will mature. For me, I’m looking for a long and stable career, versus one or two good years and then I’m done.”
That wait-and-see approach saw McNulty defer a step into the WorldTour after he won the 2016 junior world title, and instead sign with the U.S. Pro Continental squad Rally Pro Cycling. McNulty rode with the squad for two years before the opportunity opened for him to again take the step into the WorldTour for the 2019 season.
Throughout that period, McNulty said he was in contact with the team’s general manager Joxean Fernandez Matxín. After 2018 the opportunity arose for McNulty to step into the WorldTour, he said, but he again deferred, choosing to instead race one more season with Rally.
“When I decided last year [to stay with Rally] I didn’t know if I was ready [for the WorldTour] or not,” McNulty said. “You see young guys go too soon, especially with Americans, and it becomes a step too fast. I think it was better for me to stay with Rally. Svein [Tuft] had come on and he was really useful to learn from. Now I’m ready. It was good for my confidence.”
Throughout the season, however, McNulty saw the eye-popping debut of Pogačar, UAE-Team Emirates’s 20-year-old Slovenian sensation. Pogačar won the Amgen Tour of California and then became a star at the Vuelta, winning three stages and finishing third overall.
UAE-Team Emirates’s willingness to give Pogačar a starring role at age 20 helped convince McNulty to sign with the squad.
“It was obvious with Pogačar and the other young riders, they were getting opportunities, and it was working,” McNulty said. “What they were saying about my future seemed to be real.”
Like McNulty, Pogačar was a world champion before stepping into the elite ranks. McNulty was quick to set different expectations from that of the Slovenian for his first year in the WorldTour ranks.
“If I can get myself into that same situation it would be really motivating for me and the whole team,” McNulty said. “That’s also a pretty big level, and it’s still a long ways away.”