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Vuelta a Murcia: Alessandro Covi bolts to win following long breakaway from Brandon McNulty

UAE Emirates delivers tactical masterpiece to open three straight days of racing in Spain.

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UAE Emirates delivered a tactical masterpiece to win Saturday’s Vuelta a Murcia in Spain with Alessandro Covi.

American rider Brandon McNulty was one of the day’s main protagonists after riding into the main break. He was the lone man standing, and was caught with 5km to go.

Just as he was reeled in, teammate Covi countered out of a group of about 15-20 leading riders. And he never looked back to take the solo victory.

“We had a plan. Trentin stay calm for the sprint, and for me to attack if we catch back Brandon,” Covi said. “It’s my first victory as a pro, and I am very happy. It was a very hard five kilometer, but when you see the victory is there, you go full-gas for the win.”

Matteo Trentin, who was marking the chase group, dashed out of the group to hit second. Matis Louvel (Arkéa-Samsic) rounded out the podium in third.

The 183.2km race started in Fortuna on the outskirts of Alejandro Valverde’s hometown of Murcia, and finished at the Puerto de Cartagena on the Mediterranean coast. Valverde gave his “home race” a pass following a COVID scare.

Contested in brisk, springlike weather, the course featured the season’s first major hors-categorie climb and saw a big breakaway effort from McNulty, already a winner in 2022 with a “W” at the Mallorca Challenge two weeks ago.

Brandon McNulty on the march

Brandon Mcnulty was caught with 5km to go. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The race is now reduced to a one-day event. Before Spain’s economic woes in 2009-10, the race used to be a five-day stage race.

That was trimmed down to three, then two, and now it rolls on as a one-day classic.

The course profile reveals it’s still very much of a Spanish race, with the season’s first HC climb right in the middle of the route.

The Alto Collado Bermejo (17.5km at 5.4 percent) duly split the bunch in the day’s first major action.

Two riders from Euskaltel-Euskadi tried their luck, but UAE Emirates set the pace.

Four riders pulled clear, with Brandon McNulty (UAE Emirates), Nils Politt (Bora Hansgrohe), Kobe Goossens (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), and Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) taking up the march.

The gap opened to nearly two minutes coming off the day’s major obstacle. The quartet’s margin continued to increase as the course neared the coast, where crosswinds could cause more damage.

Astana-Qazaqstan and Cofidis took up the chase to try to bring back the attackers.

The final Cat. 3 with 20km to go proved too hard for everyone except McNulty, who chugged on alone at the front.

Miguel Ángel López tried to give chase but was zapped by cramps. Trentin marked the chase groups, and Covi came across later to give the team more aces in the hole.

Just as McNulty was brought back, Covi pounced, and held off the chasers to snag his first pro win.

What’s next in Spain: Almería, Jaén, and Ruta del Sol

Giacomo Nizzolo won last year’s edition at the Clásica de Almería. (Photo: Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Racing in Spain continues with this weekend’s trifecta at the Clásica de Almería on Sunday, and the new Jaén Paraíso Interior on Monday.

The Almería race, now in its 35th edition, runs 188.2km from El Ejido to Roquetas de Mar, with loops into the hills and across the “mar de plástico,” miles of plastic-wrap greenhouses that fill the salad plates across Europe.

The usually finishes in a bunch kick, with Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-PremierTech) as defending champion. Other top sprinters include Alexander Kristoff (Intermarche-Wanty), Pascal Ackermann (UAE Emirates), and Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic).

Brandon McNulty (UAE Emirates) continues his spring that will also include the Volta ao Algarve next week. Human Powered Health, with Chad Haga and Ben King, also keep things going with their ambitious European program.

Racing in Spain continues Monday with the debut of the Jaén Paraíso Interior.

Also read: New race could be the ‘Strade Bianche’ of Spain

The race loops around the “mar of olivos,” the sea of olives, that covers the vast region in central Andalucía.

The course will feature several sectors of gravel roads across the olive groves, and end with a steep uphill kick into Úbeda.

The Ruta del Sol/Vuelta a Andalucía keeps things going Wednesday to Sunday next week in Spain. Venga!