UAE-Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogačar and Brandon McNulty both admitted their surprise at Jumbo-Visma’s tactics on stage four of the Tour of the Basque Country, with the latter taking leadership of the race.
On the day’s final climb, McNulty – who finished second on the opening day’s time trial but started the fourth stage 30 seconds adrift of yellow jersey wearer Primož Roglič – twice attacked, and the second time he managed to form a breakaway group with five others that lasted to the finish.
Although McNulty wasn’t able to beat Ion Izagirre of Astana-Premier Tech for the win, the American rolled home third and 49 seconds ahead of the peloton who had given up chasing a long time in advance.
It means that 23-year-old McNulty will go into the final two stages with a 23-second lead to defend against Roglič, a position he is grateful for but also bemused by, saying the stage win was targeted but not the general classification.
Asked if he was surprised that his attack stuck, he said: “A bit, honestly. I did the first attack on the climb and got brought back and then there was one more acceleration and we were gone and it was like, ‘erm, OK’. Luckily the group we were with worked really well and it was perfect.
“I can imagine that [Roglič] could follow, he is one of the strongest guys in the world, but I don’t really know why the gap opened. But I won’t complain about it.”
It was an attack that was planned before the stage, Pogačar revealed, who will now be in the unusual position of working for another leader on the team.
“We said in the meeting we will try first with Brandon and he made it,” Pogačar, who at 22 is a year younger than McNulty, said. “I think we did a great job and I am super happy with the teamwork.
“They [Jumbo-Visma] lost the yellow jersey today so for sure they did some mistakes in their tactics.
“But for us this is perfect if they want to race like this. Maybe for them it’s also OK, but I don’t know what they were thinking. We go with our race and hope for the best in the next days.”
His ascendancy into the yellow jersey is the biggest result of McNulty’s career so far, and he has belief that he can secure the victory.
“It’s really big,” he said. “I have slowly in the last few years been building up so to finally be in the yellow jersey in a WorldTour race is really incredible.
“It’s also nice that Tadej can have the spotlight and I can slowly make my progress behind the scenes and show up on a day like this and get the leader’s jersey.
“I am somewhat confident. Hopefully tomorrow is an easier day, it is on paper at least, and then the final day will be full gas and whoever has the legs I think will take it.
“I will do everything I can for the jersey, and then obviously Tadej is the next strongest guy here so if I can’t do it he’s the next best to try. It’s a really nice position for us.”
Pogačar, who is fifth in third 43 seconds off his team-mate, backed his colleague to pull off what would be his first victory since taking a stage and the GC at the 2019 Giro di Sicilia.
“We will see how the others race, but I think Brandon has a really good chance,” he said. “He is in good shape and form and I think he could win this race.”