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Rally Cycling heads back to Europe with ambitions to win

Rally Cycling will further commit itself to European racing in 2020, with key riders and managers moving full-time to Europe. The team's loss of GC start Brandon McNulty will see it refocus on stage wins and one-day races.

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Rally Cycling pedals into the unknown in 2020, and only time will provide answers to the American racing outfit and its fans.

The squad enters its third year in the UCI Pro Continental ranks, and management again has its sights set on scoring top results in European races.

But the squad will pursue this goals without its longtime GC star Brandon McNulty, who departed for WorldTour squad UAE-Team Emirates. And Rally has also lost the Amgen Tour of California, which every year marked the team’s biggest event for both riders and sponsors.

Both losses change the squad’s outlook strategy 2020.

“We’re still hoping to have a breakthrough season an generate some big results,” said Jonas Carney, the team’s longtime performance manager. “It’s going to be really different for us this year, and we’re going to target big events where our sponsors do business.”

Rally prepared for the 2020 season at a training camp in California. Photo: Sam Wiebe/Rally

The team will look across the globe for its racing opportunities throughout 2020, and will kick off its campaign in the Southern Hemisphere and the Middle East. Rally is slated to compete in Australia’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race and Jayco Herald Sun Tour, as well as the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina and Tour Colombia 2.1 events. The team will send a third squad to compete in the Tour of Saudi Arabia; the Tour of Oman’s cancellation removed that race from the squad’s early-season goals.

The early-season calendar will then include a smattering of one-day races in France before the squad competes in the Tour of Yorkshire. The team hopes to earn a repeat invitation to the Tour de Suisse.

The globetrotting represents a new dynamic for the squad; in the past two years Rally split its teams between the Middle East and the warm-up events in southern Spain. The team’s title sponsor, Rally—a wing of the insurance giant UnitedHealthcare—has business interests across South America and in the U.K.

“Colombia and Yorkshire will be the big objectives for the first half of the season,” Carney said.

Of course those races cannot replicate the North American media footprint cast by the Amgen Tour of California, which had become the cornerstone of Rally’s racing program. In 2017 the squad won two stages with Evan Huffman, and in 2018 McNulty finished 7th place overall. In both years the team had a sizable sponsor activation at the race’s start and finish village, and used the event to entertain sponsor VIPs.

The cancellation of the Amgen Tour of California will force Rally to focus almost entirely on European racing, and the squad is investing heavily in its European presence. For 2019 the squad opened its own service course in Spain. For 2020 Carney is moving to Europe full-time, and a portion of the team will also relocate to Spain. It’s the first time the squad has required its riders to live for the majority of the season overseas.

Carney said it’s part of the team’s efforts to succeed in Europe.

“That’s the big hurdle—we’ve been flying back and forth across the Atlantic all season. The first trip isn’t bad but when you get to five transatlantic flights, the athletes struggle to perform,” Carney said. “This is the easiest way we can step up to the next level.”

Defeating jet lag cannot replace Rally’s GC ace McNulty, of course. McNulty earned Rally its biggest results in recent years, with the youngster securing the overall at the Tour of Sicily in 2019 and finishing top-10 at the 2018 Amgen Tour of California. McNulty’s prowess in stage races steered the team’s focus—the team went into most races riding in support of the young American’s GC ambitions.

Without McNulty, Carney said the team will likely shift focus away from GC, and instead target stage wins with its breakaway specialists.

“Without Brandon we don’t have that obvious weapon but we do expect guys like Gavin [Mannion] Rob [Britton], and Nate Brown to step up,” Carney said. “I think ultimately what we need to do as a team is do better in the one day races and the other styles or aces where other guys can do really well.

Carpenter will see his opportunities increase in 2020. Photo: Photo: Sam Wiebe/Rally

Rally has a number of talented breakaway riders, most notably Robin Carpenter, Colin Joyce, and Adam de Vos. Newcomers Nick Zukowski and Stephen Bassett are also strong breakaway riders, as is Nate Brown, who joins the squad from EF Pro Cycling to take on the road captain role. Carney said these riders would likely see more opportunities to race for their own ambitions throughout 2020.

Carpenter, 27, said the loss of McNulty will simply force the team to evolve its focus.

“As much as I love Brandon, I think the team leaned on him a little too hard last year,” Carpenter told VeloNews. “I think if leadership duties get a little more diversified, it can lead to a little more personal growth for individual riders and guys aren’t always relegated to be the helper. It’s important for people to learn how to be in that position.”

Carpenter is one such rider who could step into a leadership role more often in 2020. The 27-year-old had a few near misses in 2019, with second-place finishes at two French one-day races: La Rou Tourangelle and Paris-Chauny. Carpenter attacked into the winning breakaway at both races, narrowly missing the victory in the end.

Finding ways to succeed in these races, Carpenter said, will only help the team prove itself overseas. And if the squad is able to do that, invitations to bigger events may soon come.