‘He’s learning fast’: Isaac del Toro, the peloton’s ‘best neo-pro’ triumphant at Tour Down Under

The Mexican has had raced just twice at WorldTour level, and taken his debut victory at the second opportunity

Isaac del Toro at the Tour Down Under
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There’s a precocious young rider on UAE Team Emirates from a non-traditional cycling country, who won the Tour de l’Avenir and has taken a WorldTour win in his neo-pro year. No, not Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar, but Mexico’s Isaac del Toro, five years his junior, the new kid on the block.

Having never taken part in a ProTour event before, let alone a WorldTour race, Del Toro won stage two of the Tour Down Under into Lobethal on Wednesday. It meant he tasted victory at just his second attempt at this level. Life is easy.

The 20-year-old seemed overawed at his achievement, understandable given his age and stature. “We wanted to win, but this is too much for me,” he explained. “Life, for me, is so good now. Normally, it's not like that.”

The result might have stunned Del Toro, but it was not unplanned. His UAE directeur sportif Marco Marcato revealed: "We had a few cards to play today with Finn [Fisher-Black], Diego [Ulissi] and also Isaac. It went perfect. We told Isaac that in case of a reduced bunch sprint to try and anticipate it [and attack]. It was fantastic work from him."

It was not the first time that Del Toro had attacked on Wednesday's stage, with the Mexican attempting something with his Kiwi counterpart Fisher-Black on the final climb. However, it was the final attack which proved decisive, and rewarding.

"We had a plan to try something on the climb, but it was crazy to get position," Fisher-Black said. "We were way too far back and had to make up a lot of ground. I thought it was all over but then I saw Isaac hook it round the right, and held it up. It's amazing.

"I knew from the last few days that he has a pretty crazy kick on him. You could hear him coming round the side of me on that last little kick, at twice the speed. He could have freewheeled to the line and he still could have won."

Del Toro has not come from nowhere. He won last year's Tour de l'Avenir, the highest profile race for under-23 riders, following in the wheel tracks of Pogačar, Egan Bernal and Nairo Quintana. In fact, he didn't just win it, but won the mountains, sprint, and youth classifications all at the same time, something his much more successful new teammate didn't manage. 

It took Pogačar 29 race days to record his first WorldTour victory in his neo-pro year - although he won a stage of the Volta ao Algarve nine days in - while Del Toro has succeeded on day two. The latter might not go onto finish on the podium of a Grand Tour in his debut season, as Pogačar did, but his future is certainly bright.

UAE Team Emirates have a habit of signing well, with Del Toro following on from Pogačar and Juan Ayuso in being The Next Big Thing at the squad. "We followed him from when he was an amateur. This was good timing to let him in the team," his DS said.

"He's a good guy, he still has to learn, but it looks like he's learning fast," Marcato continued. "He already started well here, and he has potential and talent. He won l'Avenir, those guys are normally good as professionals too. 

"I think he is good on the climbs, but he can also move well in the bunch and see the race. He has good eyes to see the situation, and he can take an advantage from that."

"Everyone knew his numbers were good from last year," Fisher-Black added. "He's the best neo-pro coming through. For sure, I think he can show it in the racing now."

Del Toro was keen to play down his position in the team post-stage, but with his win, he has moved into the leader's ochre jersey, and could feasibly hold it all the way to the end of the race on Sunday. His teammate was quick to back him.

"Yeah for sure, 100% [he could win]," Fisher-Black said. "He's a climber, and if he can do a two minute effort like this, he can also do Willunga. It's good to have him. It'll be cool to see how it goes. If it comes down to a sprint on Willunga we know we can back him."

It could quite easily over-awe you, one supposes, coming into a WorldTour team, and winning in just your third official week with the squad. It is quite the acceleration.

"He's super excited to be here," Fisher-Black explained. "He's never been on a pro team before... I remember when I was a neo-pro, everything is super amazing, like all the support you get from the team. He's fizzing. It's cool to see."

Pogačar went from being the most promising rider in the world to being the best rider in the world within a couple of years. Del Toro is currently at step one of his journey, and there is no guarantee of more success, but it does not seem too fanciful to say we will be seeing a Mexican on podiums a lot more often now. Over to you, Isaac.

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