And as starts go, it’s been a hugely impressive for McLay – you have to go back to Michael Wright in 1964 to find a British rider with more than three top-ten finishes on their Tour de France debut (though Robert Millar, Chris Boardman and David Millar all won stages in their debut race, the latter two against the clock on the opening stage).
The chaos of a bunch sprint is a different beast altogether and, for comparison, Mark Cavendish rode the first eight stages of the 2007 Tour de France, aged 22, and finished in the top-ten twice, with a best finish of ninth in Compiegne.
When you consider McLay’s Fortuneo-Vital Concept team lack the resources of the WorldTour heavyweights, who pay top dollar for the best lead-out men in the business, it makes his debut even more impressive.
McLay gave an indication of his sprinting ability – and cool head – with his incredible win at the GP Denain, maneuvering through the bunch to claim his first pro victory. Check out the video here.
Now he is already proving he deserves recognition as a top sprinter with his string of top-ten finishes – comparable to French rider Bryan Coquard’s debut in 2014, when he made a nuisance of himself on all the sprint finishes. Coquard, of course, was within the width of a tyre of taking his first Tour stage victory on stage four of this year’s race.
McLay has chosen a very different path to the top compared to some of his British contemporaries and with the backing of the Dave Rayner Fund, opted to head to Belgium and ride with the Lotto-Soudal Under-23 team before turning pro in 2014.