Rob Britton went into his seventh Amgen Tour of California this year knowing he’d be riding for Rally UHC Cycling teammate Brandon McNulty, the 21-year-old American who was seventh in California last year and just recently won the Giro di Sicilia. But when an illness that McNulty picked up in Italy knocked the young rider out of the California general classification hunt early on, Britton stepped up and ably filled his shoes, keeping the Rally jersey in the GC fight to the top of Mt. Baldy on the penultimate day.
The first signs of trouble for McNulty showed up early on stage 2, the 214.5km climb from Stockton to altitude at South Lake Tahoe. He was unable to go with the moves at the tip of the race and instead languished in 57th, finishing with a group that came in more than eight minutes back.
One of the biggest targets for McNulty’s third season with the US Pro Continental team was suddenly out of reach, but Rally’s hopes were still in the general classification hunt with the reliable veteran. Britton stayed with the GC group as the front end of the race was slowly whittled down to a handful of contenders, eventually finishing seventh alongside Astana’s Jonas Gregaard, 27 seconds behind winner Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and new race leader Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First).
Britton found himself sixth overall, 33 seconds behind the leader. In his six previous tries at the Tour of California, Britton’s best result came in 2015, when he finished 10th with Team SmartStop. Now he was in position to better that after having initially showed up to ride for McNulty, as he did in Sicily when he helped shepherd the young rider to overall victory.
“I think I was always coming here in the best possible form, and I’ve done a good GC at this race pretty much every year,” Britton told Cyclingnews before the final stage in Santa Clarita. “It’s what I’ve spent the better part of my career doing, so it’s easy to switch on.
“I’ve really enjoyed riding for Brandon and doing that as well,” Britton said. “That’s something that actually came more naturally to me than I thought. It was a bit of a switch, but there was always that possibility. We knew he was ill coming in, so I wasn’t naive to that being a possibility, and it just sort of worked out that I got in the move on Tahoe and Brandon lost time.”
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