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Brandon McNulty continues to prove grand tour pedigree at Volta a Catalunya

McNulty sits second overall in Spanish race as he builds form and leadership skills for GC challenge at Giro d'Italia.

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Brandon McNulty is riding high on Spanish soil this week, but the 22-year-old’s mind may be in Italy.

McNulty roared to fourth place in the Volta a Catalunya time trial Tuesday, less than 30 seconds slower than former world champion and stage-winner Rohan Dennis. The Phoenix-AZ-born talent now sits second overall, continuing a standout start to his sophomore season as he builds toward a challenge for GC at the Giro d’Italia.

Also read: Brandon McNulty set to stand out in sophomore season

“That TT he did in Catalunya and before at Paris-Nice, it shows he’s got the pedigree to be a grand tour rider that’s for sure, with his climbing ability too,” UAE-Emirates head sports director Allan Peiper told VeloNews on Wednesday morning. “Just how good that stage-raceability is remains to be seen, but he’s still young, a second-year pro – he has those tasks ahead of him.

“But he’s definitely shown he’s got what it takes. I think he could go all the way.”

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McNulty has picked up where he left off this year.

After scoring 15th overall in a breakout performance at last October’s Giro d’Italia, the 22-year-old rode into third at Paris-Nice this month before crashing out on stage 6. Ripping around the Banyoles TT on Tuesday at a time faster than grand tour stars Steven Kruijswijk, Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates reaffirms his budding potential.

“Today was another good TT for me, I’m happy with how it went,” McNulty said. “To get this result in a WorldTour TT is always a good sign.”

The rapid progress McNulty has made since stepping into the top tier of pro cycling just 14 months ago has been rewarded with an elevated status at UAE-Emirates this year. Speaking with VeloNews at Paris-Nice earlier this month, the 22-year-old revealed a leadership role at this week’s Volta a Catalunya would make for a trial for protected status at the Giro d’Italia in May.

Also read: Brandon McNulty brings ambition to 2021 Giro d’Italia bid

“Catalunya will be an objective, and then the Giro is the main objective for a grand tour,” he said. “I’m excited to see what I can do.”

Veteran director Peiper sent Tadej Pogačar to the yellow jersey of the Tour de France last summer and knows how to bring out the best in young talents. The Aussie has full belief in his latest young hotshot.

“Brandon’s going to the Giro as our full GC leader,” he confirmed. “He was 15th last year and there’s no reason why he couldn’t do top-10 this year. Races like Catalunya are about helping him learn what it takes to be a leader.”

The Spanish tour continues with the first of two mountaintop finishes Wednesday, with stage 3 closing out atop the 11.4-kilometer Vallter 2000 and stage 4 being decided on the mammoth 18.4km climb to Port Ainé.

McNulty currently sits level on time with race-leader João Almeida and just a handful of seconds up on the likes of GC rivals Kruijswijk, Yates, and Richie Porte. If ever there’s a good test for the high mountains of Italy, the approaching stages deliver in spades.

“The next few days will be the real test of the legs, so I’m looking forward to that,” McNulty said. “I live pretty close [by] so I know the roads around this region pretty well which is a bonus.”