Diego Ulissi cried out in exultation as he crossed the finish line in Monselice, and the UAE Team Emirates rider was still revelling volubly in his second stage victory on this Giro d’Italia as he began to soft-pedal back towards the podium.
Brandon McNulty took a low-key part in the UAE Team Emirates celebrations by quietly tapping the stage winner’s shoulder by way of congratulations, but he had played an immense role in teeing up Ulissi’s victory. The American strung out the maglia rosa group with a searing turn in the final kilometre, though he downplayed his contribution to Ulissi’s success.
“We didn’t really speak too much beforehand, but once we got there, it was instinct – cover the moves. But QuickStep were covering the moves, so it was pretty straightforward, hit it hard with 700 or 800 metres to go and he could finish it off,” McNulty shrugged. As simple and as complicated as that.
In his post-stage press conference, Ulissi was generous in his praise for his young 22-year-old teammate, confirming that his instructions as the reduced front group hurtled towards Monselice were rather easier said than done.
“I asked him to put me in a good position in the last corner and then, if he could, to launch the sprint,” Ulissi said. “He was really perfect, beyond expectations, but I shouldn’t have had any doubts because he’s a lad with very strong legs.”
McNulty had already confirmed as much in another breathless finale in the Euganean Hills on Friday, where only 20 riders remained at the head of the race after a series of stinging accelerations on the last climb of Calaone. The American was briefly wrongfooted over that last ascent, but he latched back on over the other side.
“It was tough because I got a bit swarmed just before the climb, so I had to make up a lot of ground and then catch back up on the descent, but the legs were good because I was able to close the gap,” McNulty said, adding a comment that could have been used to describe any number of stages in Giro history. “It was a super easy day and then it was like maximum stress.”
McNulty held his nerve in that fraught finale to remain in 11th place overall, 2:45 down on maglia rosa João Almeida (Deceuncink-QuickStep), and just 19 seconds off a berth in the top 10. Saturday’s 34.1km time trial through Prosecco country to Valdobbiadene should offer McNulty a chance to move up in the overall standings.
His result in the opening time trial in Palermo was compromised by unfavourable wind conditions, but on stage 14 he will start at the same point as his general classification rivals.
“I’m just going to give it my all. In the first TT, the result didn’t necessarily reflect the effort with the wind change, so I’m interested to see how it really goes when we all start at the same time,” said McNulty, who has twice finished on the podium in the under-23 time trial world championships. He will hope the undulations – the stiff climb of Ca’ del Poggio features early on – will play in his favour.
“I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know it super well myself, but we’ve talked about it a lot and a couple of guys have done a recon. I know Mikkel [Bjerg] has ridden it in the Baby Giro or something, so he’s told me a little about it, but we’ll see it tomorrow morning.”
The Prosecco time trial is followed a day later by another pivotal day in this most uncertain Giro, the demanding mountain leg to Piancavallo. While the precise future of this Giro is still nebulous due to both the coronavirus pandemic and the risk of foul weather in the third week, the next 48 hours look certain to bring some definition to the overall standings. McNulty wasn’t sure which leg of the weekend doubleheader was likely to prove more decisive.
“A minute you gain in the TT could easily be lost, but it’s definitely an important day,” McNulty said. “And we never know when the race is actually going to end.”