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Brandon McNulty unscathed and rising high at Volta ao Algarve

American moves up to second overall behind David Gaudu after avoiding late crash on the final climb.

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Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) survived a tense and dramatic day at the Volta ao Algarve to finish fourth on the first summit finish of the race and move up to second overall with three days remaining.

The finish at the summit of the Alto da Fóia was always going to be decisive in the GC battle after Wednesday’s opening sprint stage, and so it proved with a gaggle of overall contenders hitting the final 7km ascent as they set about deciding on stage honors. What they found was a brutal headwind, and despite both Ineos Grenadiers and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl setting a brisk pace on the climb the conditions scuppered any hopes of a long-range attack.

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In the end, the remnants of the lead group decided the stage with a sprint on the final slopes with David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) stealing a march on his rivals with a perfectly executed acceleration. The Frenchman positioned himself right at the front with just over 100m to go, meaning he escaped the carnage as Sergio Higuita (Bora Hansgrohe) and Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma) clashed wheels and fell.

McNulty was sat just behind the stricken pair and narrowly avoided the incident. He finished fourth, just one second down on Gaudu, and now trails the French climber by that same deficit in the overall standings.

“It wasn’t that bad in the end,” McNulty told VeloNews as he wrapped himself in warm clothing and prepared himself for the descent towards the UAE Emirates bus at the bottom of the climb.

“With the headwind, everyone was waiting and waiting and it was quite cagey. The last 500m was hard but otherwise, it was a pretty standard day. I thought that I went well. I didn’t have quite as much sprint as I thought that I would have, and then there was the crash in the finishing straight, and that messed things up for everyone. I finished with the leaders so I can’t really ask for anything more.”

“The headwind just nullified things out there. You’d feel good in the wind and then as soon as you moved out you’d realize that an attack was probably useless.”

McNulty admitted that even if he had avoided the crash completely the win might have been beyond him but his main ambition in Algarve is to win the overall standings. Today’s priorities were to stay safe, avoid risks, and track the best riders at the finish. Mission accomplished in that sense.

“I wasn’t’ going to win, regardless of the crash, but that just nullified it. I was in the front though. Overall, it was super easy most of the day. Then things got a bit stressful on the long twisty descent before the last two climbs. There were some nasty crashes on the downhill, which were unfortunate. I came through, and that’s all I can ask for.”

The headwind conditions on stage 2 effectively put even more emphasis on Saturday’s key 32.2km time trial. There is a final, summit finish on Saturday but, in truth, the TT will likely decide the final outcome of the race. McNulty trained on the course in the lead-up to the race and is expecting a tight battle as he challenges the likes of Gaudu and 2020 winner Remco Evenepoel.

“If there had been a tailwind then there could have been some splits today but we’re all on the same time, so the time trial now becomes even more important. I rode the course, one lap of it, before the race began. It’s quite tricky actually so it should be interesting. It’s long, technical, and up and down. It should be a good one.”