The noise emanating from his chest was evidence of what he’d left out on the road during stage six of the Amgen Tour of California, and slightly disconcerting.
It made it impossible to walk past the USA domestic racer and toward Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), or even overnight race leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), whom the 20-year-old had been attacking and counter attacking at the business end of the mountainous race to place fourth behind stage winner and tour leader Egan Bernal (Sky).
McNulty finished the 196.5km trek to altitude one minute and 33 seconds behind Bernal, just ahead of Australia’s Jai Hindley (Sunweb), who came in a further five seconds adrift for fifth.
“That was so f—king hard, but so f—king good,” McNulty confessed to teammate Robert Britton, who had pulled-up next to the second-year apprentice from Rally Cycling.
The American credited Britton for pacing him on the penultimate climb where the race exploded, and to the group of chasers that initially included van Garderen, Bernal’s teammate, Tao Geoghegan Hart, as well as Yates and Daniel Martinez (EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale).
The sixth stage from Folsom incorporated seven categorised climbs, including the decisive Daggett Summit and the final kicker to South Lake Tahoe within the last 25km. It made for continuous climbing that was made tougher by the fight for general classification. The Tour of California is also McNulty’s first WorldTour race.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hurt that bad. I felt kind of paralysed as I crossed the line. I could do nothing but coast and then fall over,” he said.Asked why he decided to attack the set of WorldTour chasers, most of who were riding without abandon in an effort to improve their respective minor places on the overall, McNulty responded, “Why not? I had the legs”.
“It’s probably the best result of my career so far, so pretty happy,” he said. “For sure, I’m getting better and better as even the weeks go on I think. Hopefully I’ll be ready for the next level in a year or two -- for the full step-up. Right now, I’m happy racing where I am, and then still competing at this level is pretty amazing.”
The Under 23 World Time Trial silver medalist talked about the efforts required to perform on the two mountain stages -- to Gibraltar Rd and South Lake Tahoe -- that featured.
“I think today was a bit harder than Gibraltar. Gibraltar was more a sharp, brutal effort. This was just, you know, close to six hours of blunt suffering, and then whatever you had left at the end,” he said.
McNulty, who said he was under no pressure to perform here, now sits seventh overall ahead of tomorrow’s seventh and final flat stage in Sacramento.
“If someone is putting pressure on you at 20 to perform at the WorldTour then you should probably get away from them honestly,” he said.
“It’s a milestone as this is the first WorldTour race I’ve done. I tried to come into it without too much expectation because in the grand scheme of my career, hopefully a seventh place as a 20-year-old isn’t going to define it. It’s just learning right now.”