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Brandon McNulty keen to push personal limits in sophomore season

American GC talent ramps up second WorldTour campaign with another run at Giro d'Italia on radar.

Brandon McNulty (UAE-Emirates) enters his sophomore season in the WorldTour quietly confident he can build on his impressive debut in 2020 capped by 15th overall in the Giro d’Italia.

Racing this week in his season debut at Paris-Nice, McNulty will test his legs in Tuesday’s individual time trial, and then see how he can handle the climbs later in the week. That tactical blueprint is similar to what he’ll be following all season long.

Also read: How the US riders fared at the 2020 Giro d’Italia

This year, it’s about building on his established base, and improving his climbing and all-around racing skills.

“I am happy with how last season went,” McNulty told VeloNews. “I was pleased with how I was going in the time trials, and this year, I want to try to improve on the climbing side of things, and see if I can put it all together.”

After Paris-Nice, McNulty will race Volta a Catalunya, GP Miguel Indurain, and Tour of the Alps before a return to the Giro. In every race he will have the freedom to move.

“I’ll have a pretty free roles in some of these races,” McNulty said in a telephone interview. “It always helps me when there is a time trial. After how things went last year, I’m pretty excited about this season.”

The 22-year-old is part of a new wave of American GC talent testing the waters in the grand tours in the elite men’s peloton. Neilson Powless (EF Education-Nippo), also racing this week at Paris-Nice, and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) are pushing the American GC rider back into the frame following a few fallow years for U.S. racing fans.

Also read: Success breeds success among rising U.S. talent

McNulty passed on an offer to join the WorldTour in 2019, and decided to race one more season with Rally Cycling, a bet that paid off when he won the Giro di Sicilia. He was able to put another full season into his legs and capped it off with third in the world U23 time trial championship.

His WorldTour debut in 2020 started off promising enough and revealed glimpses on why many consider McNulty a top GC prospect. He hit two top-10s — fourth at the Vuelta a San Juan and seventh at Ruta del Sol — before the coronavirus put the brakes on the season.

After coming a bit slow out of the gate in cycling’s return, McNulty hit his stride during the Giro. He was third in the decisive time trial in stage 14, and eighth in the final TT in Milano. In between, he hit out with second behind Peter Sagan in Tortoreto and sixth in Cesenatico two days later.

Related: watch McNulty after hitting third in stage 14 in last year’s Giro d’Italia.

“The Giro result gave me encouragement,” he said. “I could see where I was at, and see where I could improve. I’m excited to see where I can in the future.”

The final brutal week across the mountains, with stages packed with 200km or more, long transfers, harsh weather, and on-the-rivet racing was suffering in the moment but proved a tremendous learning experience for McNulty.

“I was hardly racing at that point,” he said. “It was just about getting to the finish and going as hard as you can. It was kind of survival mode every day. That whole last week was a bit of blur.”

Over the winter, McNulty worked closely with UAE-Emirates coach Iñigo San Millán to build out his base and work on his climbing skills. The team spent much of the winter training together in the United Arab Emirates, and McNulty enters the 2021 season brimming with confidence.

“I was encouraged how I came out of the Giro, and it really makes you stronger,” he said. “I need to work on my climbing and on having the legs to race for three weeks, but I’m excited to see what I can do this year.”

And so are American fans. It’s been a while since they’ve had one of their own to cheer for in the grand tours.