Brandon McNulty: My dream is to win GC at the Tour de France

The American rider talks about his journey to the top of the sport, his ambitions with UAE Team Emirates and long term goals

The 2024 season has barely begun, yet Brandon McNulty already has three wins to his name. Stages in the UAE Tour and Paris-Nice, as well as overall victory at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, plus a plethora of podium finishes, make for palmarès that plenty of riders would be happy to end the year with, and we’re not even at the end of March. At most teams, McNulty would be the steadfast GC leader, almost guaranteed full support in whichever races took his fancy. The American sees it as both a blessing and a curse, however, that this is not the case at UAE Team Emirates.

“Sometimes it's crowded. Sometimes we're at races with three or four leaders, but I think usually there's a good balance of being able to cue off each other in the races. In the end, usually the strongest guy will rise up,” McNulty says. “It's hard when you have a race you want to target and there's three guys that are on the same level as you, but the team winning is more important.”

Despite his clear talent and ability to race for the general classification, something McNulty has proved already in 2024 with both his climbing prowess and time trialling ability, the American won’t be part of the UAE Team Emirates Tour de France team in 2024 for the second year in a row. Speaking openly, McNulty admits that there is a part of him that wishes he had the chance to compete in the sport’s biggest race.

“It is fun to go and try to be on the team that wins or is fighting for the podium, but then also it’s all in for Tadej [Pogačar]. There’s not really room to go for it in stages or anything which I'd like to go for. So it’s disappointing not to go, but also I see other opportunities open up elsewhere.”

McNulty is insistent on his satisfaction with UAE Team Emirates, despite some critics questioning his choice to remain with a team in which he isn’t the sole leader. The American rider points to the freedom that his team gives him outside of racing and the understanding that they have of his needs as a crucial element in his success. 

“I missed team camp this winter, so I stayed home for a long period of time. Usually they let riders who live far away miss it, Finn Fisher-Black stayed home in New Zealand too,” McNulty says of his winter preparing for the 2024 season in Arizona. “I like being at home. It's home, it's comfortable. I can do my training perfectly and it’s where I know.”

McNulty on his way to winning the time trial at the 2024 UAE Tour (Image: RCS)

Since the start of his career, McNulty has been a rider who values comfort when it comes to the team he chooses. Despite winning the World Championships as a junior, the 25-year-old spent three years with ProContinental team Rally Pro Cycling as an under-23 rider before turning professional, despite having offers from WorldTour outfits. It was the lack of pressure and a long-term development plan that originally attracted him to UAE Team Emirates.

“At that time, it was still kind of a smaller team, it was just merging into what it is now. It was an opportunity for me to jump on a rising team, so the timing was right because I was trying to build into a good rider and they were trying to build the team,” McNulty says. “It seemed like the right fit, and it has turned out to be a good decision.”

It’s true that McNulty has flourished in the Emirati team’s set-up, winning his first Grand Tour stage last year at the Giro d’Italia. While he has a proven track record as a breakaway specialist who can hunt for stage wins, McNulty also has a natural knack for time trialling. While some riders spend hours in the windtunnel optimising their positions, the American rider explains that getting aero comes easily to him.

“I've always had a steady motor and I've never really been like a super punchy rider or anything, so I've always just been able to do a high power for a long time,” McNulty explains. “Also, I think I'm quite comfortable in the position, even when I was a little kid I always wanted my bars to be super low. I know a lot of guys who get on the TT bike and instantly lose a lot of power, where I was always feeling like I can do similar power, if not more sometimes.”

McNulty points out that his teammates like Mikkel Bjerg place plenty of focus into reducing their CdA (coefficient of aerodynamic drag) but explains that when the UAE Team Emirates’ engineers call him in for testing, there often isn’t much they can do to make his position better than it already is.

“It’s funny, we just did track testing in Valencia and I literally did one run and the CdA was already so low that they were just like, there’s not really much we can even test,” McNulty says. “I guess I'm fortunate, I don't have to stress too much about trying all new positions, I naturally just find one that's really fast.”

McNulty on the podium of Paris-Nice 2024 (Image: ASO/Billy Ceusters)

A proud American, McNulty adds that he hopes to put his time trialling talent to use at the Paris Olympics later this year. He finished in sixth place at the road race in Tokyo three years ago, but will head to France with his eyes firmly set on putting in a good performance for his national team.

“I’d love to go well in Paris. As an American, I think it's special. You get so used to being in this world where we're kind of a minority in cycling, like our national team is smaller than the rest, but then you go to the Olympics and the USA is kind of the powerhouse nation. It’s really cool to see that,” McNulty explains.

It’s not just in time trials that McNulty hopes to excel in 2024. He explains that he wants to top the podium in a one-week stage race this season and longer term, his pipe dream is winning the Tour de France. McNulty is a rider who has struggled on the toughest mountains over the years, but he references Vuelta a España winner, Sepp Kuss, as a source of inspiration that winning a Grand Tour isn’t out of the question.

“A real bucket list race is GC at the Tour de France, but I guess that’s anyone’s dream. Realistically at least one stage of the Tour would be great to win,” McNulty says. “It’s hard to say if it would be possible, I always hope, but then you see how good those top-five guys are in those races and I don’t know. Someone like Sepp gives me inspiration though, we’re very different riders, but we were on Rally together years ago, so I’ve seen him come through which has been cool.”

While McNulty is insistent that he’s happy to ride as a domestique for some of the year as part of UAE Team Emirates, it’s clear that the 25-year-old still strives to have his own chances to win. He’s signed a long-term contract with his current team which he says gives him added security, but it’s possible that it will be necessary for McNulty to look elsewhere if he really wants a chance at being a GC leader.

“I think security [of a long contract] is nice, you can race with a little more calm competence. It also shows the team’s trust in me which helps our relationship,” McNulty says. “It’s always good to ride for Tadej because there’s a good chance the team will win. He’s never really stressed, but sometimes he wants to go all in early, which makes it harder for us sometimes, but it’s fun. I'm always happy to do that role as a domestique, but also I have to find opportunities.”

Cover image: ASO/Billy Ceusters

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