Isaac Del Toro drew immediate comparisons to UAE Team Emirates teammate Tadej Pogacar after winning stage two of the Tour Down Under.
The Mexican neo-pro, on just his second day in the WorldTour, showed immense talent by launching a late solo attack inside the final two kilometres of the undulating stage to hold off the puncheurs and sprinters on the line.
Del Toro had time to glance back at his far more experienced rivals, sprinting furiously in a reduced group, as he sat up and celebrated over the finish line in Lobethal. He claimed the stage win, the ochre leader’s jersey and the white jersey of best young rider. It was a huge and symbolic haul.
Former sprinter turned television commentator Robbie McEwen said the bold move was “Pogacar-esque”. Moments later UAE Emirates sports director Marco Marcato was asked if he saw any similarities between the pair.
“It’s too early to say,” Marcato said. “Tadej is the one, is the only one, so we will see, but for sure Del Toro is a strong guy, and he has the future in front of him. We hope he is still growing.”
On paper at least, you could certainly draw comparisons.
Del Toro won the 2023 Tour de l’Avenir – the Under-23 version of the Tour de France – before graduating to the sport’s top-tier.
Pogacar did the same in 2018, joining UAE Team Emirates in 2019 and making his WorldTour debut at the Tour Down Under, where he placed 13th overall. In 2020 the Slovenian won his first Tour de France.
“We told him that in the case of a reduced bunch sprint, to try to anticipate, and he did it, so it was fantastic work from him,” Marcato continued.
“He has already started good here and we knew that he has the potential. He has a talent for sure. Guys that win Tour de l’Avenir normally they’re always good also as a professional.
“We expect that he’s growing but for sure he shows already he’s there to make a good result. He’s good on the climb but also, he can move well in the bunch, and he sees the race. He can take advantage of that.”
It’s easy to get carried away by early season results in Australia, but the reality is the winner of the white jersey here could be next year’s Tour champion.
Colombian Egan Bernal was a modest rookie pro, much like Del Toro, when he claimed the best young rider classification at the 2018 Tour Down Under with Team Sky, before going on to claim maillot jaune at the Tour de France in 2019.
Experience is still valued but the hierarchy within the peloton has changed, young riders no longer at the mercy of more established statesmen.
Del Toro was close to speechless in his first post-race interview immediately past the finish line.
“No this is crazy,” he said while trying to catch his breath. “I don’t know what I want to say, it’s so much.”
Del Toro’s rivals did not seem surprised by the result that saw Israel-Premier Tech pair Corbin Strong and Stephen Williams take out the minor places on the stage, with points classification leader Biniam Girmay (Intermarche-Wanty) fourth.
“I expect a lot of attacks today and that’s also what he did, a really good job, in the right moment, at the right time,” Girmay said.
“I think he had the legs to do that because no one could follow him, even in the sprint we cannot catch him, so for sure it shows how strong he is.”
Del Toro was clearly humbled by his win. When asked about strengths, he preferred to stay in the moment.
“I don’t know. I’m tired. It’s a great sprint and I don’t know what I want to feel. Obviously, we want to win but this is too much for me. Life for me now it’s so good and normally it’s not like that. I will try to enjoy it today,” he said.
“To be honest the last kilometre feels like five, but I need to finish and try to enjoy my first [WorldTour win]. That’s all.”
Del Toro didn’t give away anything about strategy for the rest of the race, smiling playfully at multiple questions regarding tactics and UAE Emirates’ multiple leadership options.
”Maybe the next few days you know,” he said.
But Del Toro’s mind is clearly on the job and his hunger and penchant for winning, now confirmed at the top level of the sport.
“We need to be intelligent, play with all the cards,” he added. “All the stages are good for us but we need to be more intelligent.”
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