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Brandon McNulty: I’m considerably stronger than last year

American takes Algarve podium as he heads to Paris-Nice with unfinished business.

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MALHÃO, Portugal (VN) – Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) bounced back from a disappointing result in Saturday’s time trial with a spirited performance in the final mountain stage to the summit of the Alto do Malhão at the Volta ao Algarve.

McNulty finished third on the tough mountain stage behind winner Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Daniel Martinez (Ineos Grenadiers). The result meant that McNulty – who came into the final stage in third – ended the race second overall behind Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep).

McNulty has been on fire this season. He won his opening race of the season at Trofeo Calvia and was consistent throughout the five-day race in Portugal.

On the final stage he was part of an elite group that hit the final slopes of the Alto do Malhão, and it was the American who kicked first as he looked to take the stage win. He wasn’t able to follow the late surges from Higuita and Martinez but his podium in Algarve was further proof of his growing stature and consistency. With Paris-Nice on the horizon, McNulty is enjoying a rich period of early season form.

“I had good legs and went for it in the end. It was nice to have that confidence, but I was out-sprinted. There’s nothing to complain about when it comes to getting beaten by those guys,” a pleased McNulty told VeloNews and other members of the press at the summit finish.

“It was a super aggressive day. People spotted a minor weakness in QuickStep with those guys on the team but obviously they defended well, and there was definitely a lot of attacking. It took a while for the break to go and then things opened up quite far from the finish. It was super aggressive but enjoyable.”

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The result in Algarve provides further evidence of McNulty’s ever-improving development as a stage racer. While several of his rivals had key support in the finale, the American was riding on his own and he followed all the right wheels on the last climb to the finish line. It had appeared as though the time trial on Saturday had knocked his confidence but at the finish a day later he suggested that his bike position might be tweaked and improved ahead of his next time trial effort.

“For sure I’m satisfied with the race and the overall. The time trial could have been a bit better, but I can figure those things out. Racing-wise, it’s been really good. I’m super happy overall. Racing wise, I keep making step forwards,” he said.

“We’ll figure it out,” he said with a smile when asked about his time trial.

“The numbers were good. It wasn’t about the performance. It will be dialed up.”

“Today I knew that Martinez was super strong and that he had to be respected but I figured that he wasn’t going to put five seconds into me on the climb. He may have put in one or two but I was really looking for the stage. I didn’t really expect to move up on the podium at all. It’s kind of a bonus.”

Next up for McNulty is the one-day Faun-Ardeche before the UAE Team Emirates rider heads to Paris-Nice for his first WorldTour appointment of the season. Last year he crashed out of the race while on course for a high overall position, and this time around he will enjoy a leadership role. Paris-Nice is an important stepping stone in McNulty’s trajectory and despite facing a stacked field he has a more than convincing chance of securing yet another podium place. According to the young rider, everything is coming together at the right time.

“Definitely last year was unfortunate. It’s nice to have a bit of confidence and some racing in the legs going into the first WorldTour stage race of the year for me. I’m looking forward to it. Last year was pointing towards the podium or the top five had things gone better, and I’m considerably stronger than last year too. We’ll see how it goes,” he said.

“Everything has come together and really it’s a snowballing effect. You have one good race and that leads you to race better in the next. I’m just trying to keep the momentum through for the rest of the year.”