Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa: a new challenge for Spain’s rising star Juan Ayuso

Two years ago, when the Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa was last held before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, a teenager called Remco Evenepoel claimed a historic win. Almost three years younger than the Belgian, another prodigy is now ready to prove his talent on the Spanish UCI WorldTour one-day race: Juan Ayuso, born in September 2002, is a skilled rider that Spain has seen rise in the last couple of years and of whose talents the entire world is about to catch glimpses.

His exploits riding in the younger categories – most notably his dominance in this year’s Under-23 stage race, Giro Ciclistico d’Italia (three stages and four distinctive jerseys as the winner of the general, points, mountains and young rider classifications) – have already attracted lots of attention for the wonderkid. He was recently invited into the Spanish national television studios for the coverage of stage 4 of the Tour de France.

Ayuso displayed a bright smile and appeared perfectly at ease, wearing the UAE Team Emirates colours as a very young and fresh professional, while an icon such as Pedro Delgado was announcing him as “Spain’s next big thing”. A few days later, as the Tour had its first rest day in Andorra, Ayuso was visiting his elders and sharing a ride with another Spanish icon of the sport, Juan Antonio Flecha.

“At 18 years old, Juan Ayuso is the talent we’re all focused on,” Flecha highlighted as a former Tour de France stage winner himself. “I hope to participate in the Tour sooner rather than later,” said Ayuso, setting for himself a horizon of “two or three years”. But, just like Tadej Pogačar, the young Spaniard has already shown his willingness and ability to move much faster than what’s been planned for him.

Ayuso joined the professional ranks just a few weeks ago, and has been wearing the UAE Team Emirates kit since mid-June. He had been expected to stay with Team Colpack Ballan until August before joining the Tour de France winner’s team. But the team directors and managers who accompanied Tadej Pogačar’s rise to the summits had been observing the young Spaniard’s talents for a long time and decided they couldn’t wait any longer after Ayuso’s impressive feats with the Italian UCI Continental Team in 2021.

“In the youth ranks, he was winning very easily, attacking 60km away from the finish and finishing on his own”, UAE Team Emirates’ Joxean ‘Matxin’ Ferrnandez described in an interview with Spanish newspaper AS. “That’s why we decided to have him race in the Under 23 Italian calendar, to learn it’s not only about strength, and that you also have to anticipate, read the race, throw some elbows… But it was a place where he could still be hungry for victory. We’re grateful to the team Colpack, but from now on he’s moving to the UAE’s troops.”

Within the ranks of UAE Team Emirates, Ayuso enjoys the advice from the same trainer who takes care of seasoned champions such as Pogačar, Marc Hirschi, Brandon McNulty, Rafal Majka and Diego Ulissi. And Ayuso sets high ambitions for himself.

“I fell in love with cycling with Contador, I remember his successes at the Tour de France, it was really impressive,” the Spanish climber told Tuttobiciweb as he left his mark on the tifosi’s minds through the Giro Ciclistico d’Italia. “I would love to be like him one day, although I don’t get off the saddle like he did on the climbs. With him, I discovered the Tour de France and my dream is to win there, some day.”

He also laid out his much closer ambitions to the Diario Vasco. “I come with a winner’s mentality,” he established ahead of a series of one day races in the Basque Country: “I’ll chase victory in Ordizia and to be up front in the Clasica.”

He was already true to his word in the one-day Prueba Villafranca - Ordiziako Klasika, where he finished second after participating in the decisive move that saw six attackers drop all their rivals on the final climb of the day. “I’m pleased with how it went, the team did great work all day to get me to the last climb in a good position to attack”, Ayuso said as a true leader.

Will the young Spaniard be as impressive on the 41st Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa, with its 223.5km, its iconic climbs and its contenders such as the UCI World Champion Julian Alaphilippe? This coming challenge is unprecedented for Ayuso, but right now wonderkids are redefining the realm of possibilities for rising stars, and this Spanish talent looks ready to participate in that trend.