Despite a flat tire and a bike change during Tuesday’s time trial, Phoenix’s Brandon McNulty (Rally Cycling) jumped up five places to seventh overall at the Amgen Tour of California with three stages to go.

The 20-year-old phenom sits just behind two-time Tour de France King of the Mountains winner Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and ahead of countless world-class riders McNulty said he watched on TV before competing against them in Europe earlier this year.

“These are the guys I’ve been watching on TV since I was 12 and now I’m racing against them,” McNulty told Velonews. “I was like, ‘This is pretty cool.’”

From Underground Crit to WorldTour elite

It’s also “pretty cool” for Arizona bike racers who have competed alongside McNulty to see his progression from the days of the Underground Crit – a local practice race – to his ascension to the world’s cycling elite.

“It’s wild,” said Lance Eddis-Finbow, McNulty’s friend and former local teammate. “I keep giggling when I see him riding next to [Peter] Sagan and the other big dogs. He and I have been close since he was 13 and we always talked about racing in the world tour so I’m immensely proud to see him killing it.”

And although McNulty has put in some eye-opening performances abroad – most notably Dubai Tour’s Stage 4 where he was caught in the final 100 m after a daylong breakaway – the Tour of California is the most visible to U.S. viewers.

“The first time the announcers mentioned his name was a little surreal, but now it seems so organic,” Eddis-Finbow said. “It would be weird to see him at a 9 to 5 job. I think everybody that knows him would agree that he was made for this sport. It’s the most natural place for him in my opinion.”

Ascension

During Stage 2 on the 3,400-foot Gibraltar Road climb, when Team Sky’s pace blew up the field, McNulty found himself sitting fourth wheel among a small, select group of climbers like Majka, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) and stage winner Egan Bernal (Team Sky).

With a surge from Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Sky), McNulty finally dropped, but crossed the line in 13th.

The following day, McNulty again managed to stay with a select group of riders that spent the entire stage chasing down a break. Multiple climbs leading up to a Laguna Seca race-track finish made it anyone’s game, and McNulty hung in to finish 12th, moving up a slot to 12th on GC.

Then came the time trial – Tuesday’s Stage 4 – where he was expected to challenge for a top-10 finish.

Approaching the mid-way point in the 35 km time trial, McNulty suffered a front puncture that nearly ended in catastrophe. He was able to keep the bicycle upright before coming to a stop and jumping on a spare bike from the following car.

“I was feeling great,” McNulty said. “I was top-10 at the time split and knew I still had a bit more to give on the super fast section on the way back. I think I hit a pothole and heard a loud bang mid-corner. Once I had the bike change I knew any shot at a decent result was gone. I just had to ride it in as hard as I could and make the best of a bad situation.”

McNulty went on to finish the stage in 24th, 1:43 down on stage winner Van Garderen. Despite the mishap, he moved up five places to seventh on GC.

‘All sights forward’

“I’m definitely frustrated but it’s one of those things and I have to move on from,” he said. “I’m happy to have moved up a few spots on GC, but as much as I wanted to do well in the overall, I wanted even more to have a really good TT, so it’s a bummer. All sights are forward now as we’ll have a battle on the stage to Lake Tahoe.”

Wednesday’s Stage 5 and Friday’s Stage 7 will favor sprinters, while Stage 6 to Tahoe will be a day McNulty could again share the spotlight during 123 miles and 16,000 feet of climbing.

General classification after Stage 4
1    Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team    12:50:55
2    Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky    0:00:23
3    Daniel Martinez (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale    0:00:37
4    Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Team Sky    0:00:52
5    Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott    0:01:07
6    Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe    0:01:29
7    Brandon McNulty (USA) Rally Cycling    0:02:08     
8    Laurens De Plus (Bel) Quick-Step Floors    0:02:13
9    Kristijan Durasek (Cro) UAE Team Emirates    0:02:15
10    Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team    0:02:34

Photo provided by Rally Cycling