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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.