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Brandon McNulty, Sepp Kuss storm Americans into spotlight at Ardèche Classic

McNulty and Kuss go one-three in France to stamp status as leaders of pack of rising U.S. talent.

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There was a North American flavor at the French finish line Saturday.

Brandon McNulty and Sepp Kuss lit up the Faun-Ardèche Classic to go one-three on the podium and rubberstamp a month of starring rides by young U.S. talents.

Riders like Neilson Powless, Magnus Sheffield, and Matteo Jorgenson have also been in the moves through February and are following close behind Kuss and McNulty in what looks to be a bright future for North American racing.

“What a day! Super happy to take this victory! Also, a pleasure to share the podium with my fellow compatriot Sepp Kuss,” McNulty wrote after his marquee victory in the Ardèche.

“I’m really happy. It was a tough day, lots of climbing I had an aggressive approach to the race, especially on the last two climbs, launching myself into the attack,” he told reporters at the finish. “I went solo which is the hardest way, but it paid off in the end.”

Race report: McNulty launches long-range raid in Ardèche

The Arizonan 23-year-old stepped out of illustrious teammate Tadej Pogačar’s shadow this season and is forging his own place in the all-star UAE Emirates roster.

Victory on debut at the Trofeo Calvia opened up a month that included two more top-4s in Mallorca and second overall behind Remco Evenepoel at the Volta ao Algarve.

 

“My start to the season has been very good so far with some nice results,” McNulty said Saturday. “I saw the way training was going in the off-season and I grew quite a bit both physically and skill-wise in the racing, it’s nice to see it’s paying off.”

Power Analysis: How hard does Brandon McNulty train in the winter?

Kuss crossed the line third, bittersweet consolation for a barnstorming role in the final of his first race of the season. The Coloradan launched a series of accelerations in the final 30km that brought the classic to a crescendo.

“I felt perfect today and was looking forward to race again,” Kuss said. “I tried to follow McNulty a few times, but he was just powerful today. Also, between the penultimate and final climb I had to make a big effort bridging the gap to the chasers and that cost me just too much energy. Still, I’m pleased with what I showed on this tough course.”

Americans in action from the Emirates to the Ardèche

Magnus Sheffield blitzed stage 3 of Ruta del Sol and was back on the offense at Omloop this weekend. (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

Kuss and McNulty’s blitzing ride through the Ardèche reinforces their status as the brightest prospects of U.S. racing.

Kuss won a stage of the Tour de France last summer and has become the go-to guy for Jumbo-Visma teammate and triple Vuelta a España champ Primož Roglič in three-week racing. The 27-year-old is at the center of his team’s grand tour ambitions in 2022 and is poised to see his own freedom in week-long events.

Also read: Kuss to see opportunities in 2022, says team

McNulty is tracking Kuss in his elder’s rise to the top. The 23-year-old is slated for a superdomestique stint for Pogačar at the Tour before the possibility of a wider role at the Vuelta.

But the American flag has been hoisted high elsewhere this month.

The 19-year-old WorldTour rookie Magnus Sheffield powered to a breakout stage victory at the Ruta del Sol earlier this month and wasn’t shy in shaking up Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in his senior classics debut Saturday.

Neilson Powless, winner of last year’s Clásica San Sebabstián and star of the Flandrien road worlds, rode high and into the top-6 at the UAE Tour this week before losing the wheels on the final day of racing. Matteo Jorgenson opened up his huge engine to dive into fourth overall on the final day of the Tour de la Provence, and Human Powered Health lit up the Ruta before COVID called time on the celebrations.

Get the picture?

Maybe American racing isn’t in a bad place.

The rise of racers like Kuss, McNulty, and Powless comes well-timed in the wake of a recent shift in the USA’s place in international racing.

Stalwarts like Tejay van Garderen and Brent Bookwalter have recently retired, and the tours of California and Utah are both off the calendar for the foreseeable future.

Recent COVID restrictions have made it harder than ever for Americans to balance keeping ties at home with alternate existences as racers in Europe. Teams like Hagens Berman Axeon found it harder than ever to find funding in a wave of economic uncertainty.

But America’s new generation ensures the States keeps a firm foothold – and more – in top-level international racing.

Not just about GC

Kuss on the move in the Ardeche Classic
Climbing king Sepp Kuss lit up the Ardèche Classic. (Photo: James Startt)

Kuss, McNulty, and Sheffield will all be back in action Sunday.

Kuss and McNulty line out for the Ardennes-style Drôme Classic in France, while Sheffield will be at the sprinter-friendly Kuurne-Brussell-Kuurne of the “opening weekend.”

Riders like Kuss and McNulty made their name in stage-racing. But it seems there may be another string in their bow after proving their classics creds in the hills of the Ardèche region Saturday.

“I like one-day racing, it’s fun. You either go all-in or you don’t,” McNulty said after his victory in Ardèche. “I like races like Amstel and Liège, I’d like to give them a shot. They’re not in the calendar this year, but maybe in the future.”

For now, though, McNulty and Kuss may be sticking to their staple – the summers of high mountains and three-week races. The hurly-burly of one-day racing can be kept in the wheelhouse of Sheffield and fellow “king of the junior cobbles,” Quinn Simmons.

Also read: Sheffield and Simmons reunite in WorldTour after junior worlds triumph

“I still prefer stage-racing,” McNulty said. “But the one-days are always fun, but I’m keen to get stuck into the stage races now too.”

From February’s first Flandrien cobbles to summer’s Spanish climbs, Europe will have a little American hot in 2022.