The Greatest Teenage Climber in History – Juan Ayuso

Utrecht – Netherlands – cycling – Juan Ayuso (ESP – UAE Team Emirates) pictured during Vuelta Espana 2022 – 77th edition – Day 1 – Official fotos – 17/08/2022 – Photo: Rafa Gomez/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Juan Ayuso became the second youngest rider in history to finish on a Grand Tour podium at the Vuelta 2022, with Henri Cornet being the youngest as the winner of the Tour de France in 1904. At only 19 years old, the Spaniard proved that he already is one of the best GC riders and climbers in the world, pushing higher watts per kg than Pogačar, Evenepoel or Uijtdebroeks were capable of at the same age.

Ayuso in the Spring of the 2022 season already showed glimpses of great potential in Tour de Romandie and Volta a Catalunya where he finished fourth and fifth in the GC. However in both of those races Ayuso did not produce anything like the high w/kg performances achieved in La Vuelta later in the season. This may be explained by the lack of suitable climbs for high w/kg performances in Catalunya and Romandie, such as La Molina, with the exception being the Romandie mountain time-trial where Ayuso finished eighth, losing 1 minute and 25 seconds to Aleksandr Vlasov.

Peak Performances

Juan Ayuso stepped up in his home race, producing almost all of his peak climbing performances throughout the three weeks. Below in his peak performances graph every performance is from La Vuelta 2022 except Colle Passerino, which is from U23 Giro d’Italia 2021.

Best Climbing Performances of Juan Ayuso – Lanterne Rouge x CyclingGraphs

Ayuso already in 2021 showed great climbing potential on Colle Passerino at 18 years old, beating Tobias Halland Johannessen (3 years older) and Ben Healy by 48 seconds on a rather short climb. Ayuso even set a new climbing record on the climb of 13 minutes and 40 seconds, being 24 seconds faster than Bernal, Landa, Ciccone and Carthy in Stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia 2021. The difficulty before Colle Passerino was not even that easy as riders needed to push around 3000 kilojoules for more than three hours before the climb – quite high for an under 23 race.

Pico Jano, which was the first real mountain test of La Vuelta, was the breakout climbing performance in a World-Tour race for Ayuso. He beat Roglič, Hindley, Almeida and other GC contenders group by 42 seconds and finished fourth on this hard day where Vine and Evenepoel set blazing fast times. The stage was wet and cool compared to usual Spanish summer temperatures. Although Ayuso is Spanish, he appears to perform really well in the cold and wet, which he already proved in Volta a Catalunya earlier this year, whilst initially he struggled with the heat in the early Vuelta stages in the Basque country, nearly dropping from a group of 40+ riders on Stage 4.

San Miguel de Aguayo – Spain – cycling – Juan Ayuso (ESP – UAE Team Emirates) pictured during 77th La Vuelta ciclista a Espa–a (2.UWT) – stage 6 Bilbao > Ascensi—n al Pico Jano San Miguel de Aguayo (181.2km) – Photo: Luis Angel Gomez/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Ayuso’s most impressive pure w/kg performance was the climb to Peñas Blancas, where he finished together with Evenepoel, Roglič and Mas. However many riders achieved high w/kg that day due to the perfect conditions:

  • very easy stage before the climb with low kilojoules;
  • low altitude;
  • no hard stages since the previous rest day;
  • no extreme temperatures; and
  • Jumbo-Visma pacing a steady hard pace from the base of the climb.
Best Climbing Performances of Juan Ayuso with difficulty pre climb – Lanterne Rouge x CyclingGraphs

On stage 9 Les Praeres finish Ayuso was second fastest from GC climbers on the rampas inhumanas climb, outclimbing Enric Mas and Primož Roglič on pure w/kg test, proving that he can perform well also in hot conditions and hard stages even with sub-optimal tactics attacking Evenepoel from the base of the steep climb.

How Ayuso Compares to Evenepoel at 19

The winner of La Vuelta 2022, Remco Evenepoel, was himself a teenage prodigy in cycling, winning the Junior World Championships 2018 and Clasica San Sebastian at 19 years old. During the Vuelta, Bora Hansgrohe’s star Cian Uijtdebroeks was also busy at 19 years old winning the Tour de l’Avenir with ease. However neither Uijtdebroeks nor Evenepoel have performed near the peak climbing level or with the same volume of top class climbing performances as Ayuso in their teenage years.

Best Climbing Performances of Juan Ayuso – Lanterne Rouge x CyclingGraphs

Evenepoel in 2019 produced his best performance on a unipuerto stage in the Tour of Turkey, where he finished fourth losing to Großschartner, Conti and Kudus on the Kartepe climb. Conditions were perfect and this was Evenepoel’s best pure w/kg performance until the Tour of Norway 2022. In 2019 he did not do too many extended climbs, with a race program centred around hilly races or time-trials rather than mountains.

Uijtdebroeks this year became the youngest ever winner of Tour de l’Avenir with some top class performances, which we analysed in detail here. Juan Ayuso started in l’Avenir last year but crashed out, missing out on the chance to become the youngest winner ever. Uijtdebroeks’ climbing level on 20+minute climbs is around the same level as Evenepoel’s in 2019, but not in the same league as Ayuso, however in 2023 Uijtdebroeks should make more progress and will be competitive in GC at World-Tour races.

Ayuso Compared to Pogačar’s Vuelta 2019

Ayuso’s teammate Tadej Pogačar already showed great climbing skills as a teenager in Tour of Slovenia 2018 against WorldTour level climbers but Ayuso has progressed at a much faster age. Whilst both riders are born in September, in Pogačar’s second under 23 year he was still riding mostly under 23 races and won Tour de l’Avenir 2018. Pogačar made huge progress as a 20 year old in 2019, winning Algarve, Tour of California GC and finishing third in La Vuelta with three stage wins but he was a year older than Ayuso was in La Vuelta 2022. It is hard to definitively say who was the better climber in their first participation in La Vuelta, with Pogačar’s peak performances slightly better under 20 minutes but with Ayuso producing many more top-class performances. For example, on pure w/kg climbs such as Los Machucos and Santuario del Acebo Pogačar performed above the level of Ayuso on Les Praeres, but he underperformed on Mas de la Costa, losing 51 seconds to Valverde and Roglič.

Juan Ayuso vs Tadej Pogačar 2019 La Vuelta – Lanterne Rouge x CyclingGraphs

Perhaps Pogačar’s best performance was in Stage 9, which finished in Andorra. The final part of the wet stage was three climbs with a short downhill and a gravel section, which makes it hard to estimate this performance however it was an early sign of Pogačar’s ability to repeat top level climbing performances between 10 and 25 minutes duration after only short rest between them.

  • Comella: 6,44 w/kg for 11:44min
  • Engolasters: 6,17 w/kg for 13:45
  • Cortals d’Encamp: 5,99 w/kg for 16:45

2019 La Vuelta Stage 9 final three climbs

Ayuso has now turned 20 years old and we expect he will improve in the future. If cycling were like football, Ayuso’s market value would be very high due to his young age, proven top-class performances across an entire Grand Tour (Pico Jano to Piornal) and being a Spaniard fluent in English (Ayuso grew up in the United States). With UAE having him under contract until the end of 2028, they have secured at least a top five most valuable rider in the peloton for the best part of a decade. They have a difficult decision on their hands for next year, do they send Ayuso to the Tour de France after his breakout Vuelta like they did with Pogačar in 2020 or will he target his home race again. Whatever they choose, do not be surprised to see Ayuso winning big WorldTour races in the spring next year.

  1. I am slightly disappointed that they don’t want to send him to the Giro. I think it would be an amazing opportunity for him to grow as a rider.
    The parcours is not so easy and he seems to be very good on the long climbs.
    I hope for a more difficult Vuelta this year that would suit him better.

  2. A proper Giro training determines the rest of the season, I don’t think they are gonna send him there any time soon Fabian. I wish though. No long climbs in la Vuelta. It seems He manages well heat so it’s a Tour rider IMO. I just hope they don’t end up in Movistar.

  3. …y eso que tuvo el COVID!. Es muy fuerte física y mentalmente, que tengan …todos…mucho cuidado con este chico.

  4. “Conditions were perfect and this was Evenepoel’s best pure w/kg performance until the Tour of Norway 2022.”
    It was raining.
    You can also not compare these efforts. First of all, Ayuso was only days away from turning 20 in the Vuelta. Where as Evenepoel had only turned 19 two months before Tour of Turkey. Also Uijtdebroeks was 19 and a half during l’Avenir. This might seem trivial, but at that age a 9+ month age difference is quite substantial.

    Furthermore, Vuelta was at the end of the season and Ayuso had ample time to prepare for the Vuelta, it was an end-of-season goal for him. That was completely different for Evenepoel in 2019 at the ToT. Also, due to Ayuso having his birthday in september, that also means he was already able to ride pro races the previous season. This is already his 2nd season riding pro races, so the Vuelta came at the end of the 2nd season he was able to ride pro, where as ToT came at the beginning of Evenepoel’s first pro season. Neither was ToT a goal in itself.

    Also the focus was completely different. Where Ayuso specifically prepared for the Vuelta, Evenepoel didn’t start to train on long climbs until 2021, neither did he ride races with more comparable climbs prior. You could also compare these efforts to those of Roglic, who was still skijumping at that age. It simply doesn’t make much sense. Preparation also means optimal weight for such efforts. Remember how Lefevere puplicly called Evenepoel too fat, because during this time he was 4kg over his optimal weight.

    All in all, this is a bit of a lazy article when it comes to these comparisons. There is the age difference, there is the surplus of experience at pro level, there is the performance peak towards a season goal as well as weight/power balance. I think Ayuso’s performance doesn’t need such comparisons to begin with. His Vuelta speaks for itself. No need to compare to other riders who were at different points in their development at that time, in order to further (and needlessly) inflate the impression that Ayuso has already made. The take-away for most readers will be that Ayuso is/will be better than Pogacar, Evenepoel… which, as per arguments stated above, would be a rushing to conclusions. Especially considering Evenepoel, and maybe even Pogacar, are still young enough to improve and further develop themselves too.

    1. No, no, Ayuso no se preparó específicamente para la Vuelta a España, en absoluto. Eso no es cierto. De hecho su temporada fué bastante caótica debido a las enfermedades que le obligaron a cambiar de objetivos no menos de tres veces: No va a País Vasco por enfermedad, vuelve en Romandia y vuelta a problemas en Dauphine.. un caos. El que si que preparó específicamente para La Vuelta, me refiero a este año, ha sido Remco Evenepoel.. (en el pasado no sé si se preparaba específicamente para nada) y tan superespecíficamente se preparó que desde La Doyenne (Abril) no tuvo otro objetivo. En el UAE no querían que corriera Ayuso la Vuelta de ninguna manera ya que en principio el hombre fuerte para la Vuelta era Almeida y su calendario… el de Juan Ayuso… pasaba por las carreras de Canada hasta una semana antes de que empezara La Vuelta a España. Tampoco nadie va a pensar, de momento, que Ayuso va a ser mejor que Pogacar, el artículo solo da unos datos, aunque son datos reales, que reflejan la excelente madera de la que está hecho este chico y los compara con los de los otros dos fenómenos ..y luego que cada cual que saque las conclusiones que le dé la gana. , en eso estaremos de acuerdo, je pense. Pero ya puestos diré también que si hemos de glorificar, y glorificamos lógicamente, la victoria de un chico de 19 años en una carrera como la Clásica de San Sebastián.. donde siempre ha habido sorpresas y un poco de lotería también….aunque Remco ganó a lo grande… me parece muy lógico que llame mucho más la atención el extraordinario resultado obtenido por Ayuso en una carrera como La Vuelta a España.

  5. Este nuevo capitulo del ciclismo está muy reciente para sacar conjeturas de quienes y/o en que momento tocaran su umbral y sobre todo que en nada se parece a lo visto en décadas pasadas y por lo tanto la cátedra y experiencia para las etapas que conocíamos como sub23 o sub26 ya no van, los mismos veteranos que integran el pelotón WT se sienten contrariados con estos imberbes.
    Me parece que si hace 4 años hablábamos del precoz nivel de Remco como una excepción a la regla, lo ahora visto en Cian U. y especialmente Juan Ayuso nos evidencia que sea lo que sea que estén comiendo en el cereal van a llegar mas prospectos similares y a mas temprana edad.

  6. Hey LR.
    you probably thought about this already as a rider’s agent:
    The market value of Spanish riders should be way higher if they can actually communicate with riders in top level teams, i.e. if they can speak English. It’s probably worth as much as 0.5W/kg extra FTPwise. Take young talents under contract and send them to an English school rather than an altitude camp… Maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but I think my point is valid.

  7. Hey LR,
    Great article and really enjoyed the analysis. I find the graphs rather tricky to read and I wonder if they might benefit from a re-design especially for new readers. Drop me a line if you want some mock-ups for cleaner versions, FT and economist gold standard for this if you just want off the shelf examples.

  8. As for the graphs, I think that they are, before we worry about the details, really, really good. I think that the ones above are lot more readable than on the Ineos article. The dark background is very helpful because it is good for continued staring, and it provides good contrast against the whiteness of the paragraphs. (I write on a white background and code on black because eye movements are very different for the two, and it’s the same here). The gridlines above are also just right.

    The color of the writing needs work.
    A tiny thing is that decimals are expressed with ‘.’ in English, and not ‘,’ as in many European languages. The semi-colons are nasty, but maybe that’s just me.

    I wonder if text size could be related to performance. It would draw the eye to the best performances, even if a very narrow scale is used.

    I also think that the y-axis needs to be transformed, if possible, so that we can get straight line graphs. Are watts per kilo lognormally distributed perhaps? And does the shape of the distribution vary by rider or across the whole peloton (or both).

    Trend lines for Pogacar and Evenepoel would also be helpful.

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