The Valdobbiadene time trial was always likely to shake up the general classification at the Giro d’Italia, but nobody rose through the top end of the rankings quite like UAE Team Emirates climber Brandon McNulty.
The American began the day just outside the top 10 but ended it within touching distance of the podium, placing third behind the Ineos Grenadiers pair of Filippo Ganna and Rohan Dennis in the rolling test through the vineyards in the hinterland of Conegliano.
McNulty was third quickest behind Ganna and Dennis at the first time check on the short but steep Ca' del Poggio after 7.4km, and that trio remained in situ atop the rankings at every time check thereafter.
By the time McNulty crumpled into a heap past the finish line, he had stopped the clock 1:09 down on Ganna. Out on the course, meanwhile, it was already clear that the men directly ahead of him on GC would struggle to match his pace.
"Warming up on the trainer, my legs felt really bad so I didn’t know how it would go," McNulty said after rising to his feet and making his way across the street to the reporters waiting in the mixed zone. "But on the first split, I was right there with Ganna, so I knew I was on a good day. Then I just didn't think, I went as hard as I could.
"The team sent me a pacing strategy beforehand, so I knew on that opening section you had to be really right on the line of pushing and conserving. And then it was just full gas on the climb. After that, you could risk a bit on the descent, and then just open it up again."
Were it not for a jour sans in the rain-sodden mountains of the Sila on the Giro's first day on mainland Italy, McNulty might even be closing in on the maglia rosa of João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep). As it is, he is fourth overall, 2:23 behind the Portuguese neo-professional and just 12 seconds off Pello Bilbao’s third place.
Men like Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling) still had to finish as McNulty was speaking on Saturday afternoon, but he already knew he would leapfrog them in the overall standings. In this most unpredictable Giro, a podium finish is suddenly a possibility.
"Yeah, hopefully. I think if I'm able to beat the GC guys on this, I'll stand a good chance on the climbs, too, and then there’s one last TT in Milan," McNulty said. "That's another opportunity for me, especially because it’s quite flat. We'll see."
A week before the Giro began, McNulty endured a disappointing outing in the World Championships time trial in Imola, placing a distant 29th, albeit on a pan-flat course not entirely to his liking. His curve has followed an upward trajectory ever since, particularly over the past six days of the Giro.
The longest race for the 22-year-old before the corsa rosa was the 10-day Tour de l'Avenir in 2018, but he has delivered his best displays in Italy since reaching that threshold, beginning with a fine second place at Tortoreto Lido on stage 10. His podium aspirations face an immediate test on Sunday afternoon, when the Giro tackles three mountain passes ahead of the stiff summit finish at Piancavallo.
"Every day, especially since stage 9 or 10, has been a surprise for me, because I’ve never raced this long," McNulty said. "But, somehow, I just keep getting better. It's been really good."