Much is expected of Spain’s upcoming wonderkid Juan Ayuso - but could we see him winning races and even being a rival to his own UAE-Team Emirates teammate Tadej Pogačar as soon as this fast-approaching season?
It seems slightly inconceivable given Ayuso’s 19 years, and the small fact that he has only ridden 13 professional bike races, but in the team’s January training camp, the teenager who every Spanish cycling fan has on their lips has superseded even his team’s own lofty expectations.
On the climb of Coll de Rates, where Pogacar lowered the Michal Kwiatkowski’s Strava record by a staggering two minutes, Ayuso rolled home just 14 seconds in arrears, outputting 6.5w/kg over the 10 kilometres.
It wasn’t an anomaly - Ayuso’s strength is about to be shown to the world. “He thinks that Tadej is not his ceiling - but that his ceiling is to be better than Tadej,” said Iñigo San Millán, the coach of both Ayuso and the two-time Tour de France champion, to El País.
“I put both of them together at the same time [on the climb] so that they would get itchy, so that Tadej could see that he couldn’t relax because Ayuso is so strong. And also so that Ayuso can see that he is getting closer to Tadej.
“On the Coll de Rates, the intensity was similar to that of a Tour stage. If Ayuso does this in a race which Tadej isn’t…
“[Ayuso] has big ambition. He dreams big. Why is it going to be possible to beat Tadej?
“Ayuso says what he thinks, but he knows that Tadej has the stripes this year.
“And he is very professional. These cracks are people from another planet, competitive animals, they are made for this.
“They do not know how to live without the ambition to win, to be the best in the world. It’s an addiction.”
Ayuso, born in September 2002, won the Baby Giro last year before stepping up to the WorldTour outfit from its feeder team, Team Colpack Ballan.
He signed a deal until 2025, the same year that the current contract of Pogačar expires, and Ayuso has already impressed the Slovenian who is almost exactly four years his senior.
“Ayuso and I, we have done some training rides together,” Pogačar said. "We tried out our shapes on the Coll des Rates and one other climb.
“I think Ayuso is going to be super strong this year already. He is super motivated, and thinking of big goals already. If he has an opportunity this year he can grab it and show how good he is."
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