Q&A: Brandon McNulty on a successful start with WorldTour team UAE-Team Emirates

Brandon McNulty is already turning heads in his first races with WorldTour squad UAE-Team Emirates.

Of course he is no relation to fictional character Jimmy McNulty. And, he will unapologetically tell you that he has never seen The Wire, and knows nothing of the adorably-flawed detective who animated the series for five years.

The truth of the matter is, the 21-year-old cyclist is plenty busy writing his own story, one of an up-and-coming stage-race rider. While McNulty is a well-known entity on the US circuit, he immediately captured attention on an international level this past week when, racing for his first race for the WorldTour team UAE-Emirates, he finished fourth in Argentina’s Vuelta Ciclista San Juan.

On paper, McNulty has been on a steep learning curve. After all, just months ago, he was a member of the Pro Continental Rally Racing team. And now, in his first race on a WorldTour team, he is sharing leadership responsibility with Colombian sprint star Fernando Gaviria. But, McNulty is perfectly at ease in his new role, and confident that his years at Rally Racing offered him the perfect stepping stone to the WorldTour.

We caught up with McNulty after the race finished in San Juan, to look back on a memorable week.

VeloNews: Brandon, this is your first race with a WorldTour team. What has it been like taking the step up?

Brandon McNulty: It’s really good. The team is good and the staff is super professional. I’ve felt very welcome. Here (i.e., at the Tour of San Juan) it has been a little tough because it is mostly Italian, but I don’t feel like an outcast, and they will speak English if I have a question or anything. It’s been really good.

McNulty on Stage 5 of the 2020 Vuelta a San Juan. Photo: James Startt

VN: And you have had a great first race with your fourth-place finish here in San Juan.

BM: It’s been fun. In the first few days I helped leading out Fernando Gaviria, which is interesting. When you go from a Pro Continental team, to leading out the best sprinter in the world pretty much, well that’s a lot of fun. Just learning how to do that and how to be a part of that is a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. It brings you back to the crit days in the U.S., which are pretty aggressive. It’s funny, but the crits were good training for that. Obviously my personal goals are in the general classification, and climbing areas, but I like to be versatile and feel like I am useful in the last few kilometers, too, and not just skinny climber that can’t do anything else.

VN: Well, something I also saw in the race, was several moments when Gaviria was working for you. On one stage I saw him going back and getting water bottles, and bringing them up to you, and then on the queen stage, up to Alto de Colorado, he was at the front driving the pace when the race split up in the wind. What’s he like to have a guy like Gaviria working for you?

Brandon McNulty (left) on course reconnaissance, at the 2020 Vuelta a San Juan. Photo: James Startt

BM: It was funny. At one point on that stage I was in the back talking to my old Rally Racing teammates when he came up and gave me bottles and they all started joking and stuff, but yeah it has been really cool.

VN: Well, you finished fourth overall, and perhaps could have been on the podium. You couldn’t have started the time trial at a worse time, as a storm really hit hard. By the time you finished it was pretty much pitch black. That must have been crazy, not to say a little dangerous.

BM: Well, it was one of my best TT’s for sure. Three or four days before, I came down with a little stomach thing, and up until the rest day I wasn’t riding 100 percent, and then, of course, the wind didn’t help. To be honest: my legs were probably a bigger factor than the wind, but still finishing in the top five was great. With the wind and the storm, you can’t really do anything about it. Getting mad about it isn’t going to help. You just have to ride hard.

VN: I know you worked closely with Roy Knickman, one of the first Americans ever to race in Europe, and although you had opportunities to sign with a WorldTour team earlier, you made a deliberate choice to hold off until this year.

BM: Working with Roy was really great. He just had a lot of insight. He was a super junior, pretty much, and then just jumped right in (i.e. to the pro ranks) but hated it and burned himself out. So, he was very adamant to keep me cautious. And, that view coincided with my coach at the time, Barney King, which is what led me to Rally which had a similar mindset. They didn’t expect big results from a 19-year-old at that point. But over the years, I grew into being their leader, over time, and in races like the Tour of California, or the Flèche-Wallonne. That really helped me make this transition, here, to the WorldTour easier.

For 2020, McNulty makes the move from Rally Racing, to UAE-Emirates Photo: James Startt

VN: What kind of goals have you set out for yourself this year with the team?

BM: Mainly just getting better. Originally, we had the Tour of California as an objective, but unfortunately that went away. So now, I think I am not really focusing on one race to peak for, but I really want to build up for the Vuelta at the end of the season. I want have strong showing there, regardless if I finish, or just do two weeks.

VN: What race makes you dream the most?

BM: Well, obviously, as a G.C. rider the Tour de France is really something. But, for me, an outside kind of race would be Amstel Gold, or Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It is hard enough that a climber can do well, but it is still a classic. And on a personal note, the US national team house for juniors is in the same area as Amstel. If there is any part of Europe I can say I grew up in, it would be there. It is based in Sittard, in the Netherlands, and I trained on all those roads since I was like 15 or 16. I just really love it.