Remco Evenepoel was not the only up-and-coming cycling star to make some huge waves on the first summit finish of the Vuelta a España on Thursday, as the youngest rider in the race, Juan Ayuso, launched a notable counter-attack to move into fifth overall.
Riding his first Grand Tour at 19, the UAE Team Emirates racer blasted away from a GC group shortly after Evenepoel and Enric Mas (Movistar) had already disappeared into the mist and rain enveloping Pico Jano.
Ayuso's solo charge did not bring him across to the two earlier attackers but proved more than enough to net him a hugely-impressive fourth place, and a move up to fifth overall on GC, just 11 seconds back of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), all the same.
It goes without saying that as Ayuso has never taken part in a three-week race, there’s no knowing if he may struggle further down the line. But come what may, Ayuso’s performance on Pico Jano is a massively encouraging step for the young Spaniard.
“It was a very hard day, above all with so much rain,” Ayuso told reporters on the line. “I knew the Brenes climb from when I was a junior, so it was good to be able to remember that, and then on the Pico Jano they went flat out almost from the bottom of the climb.”
Ayuso said rather than follow specific riders, he had initially tackled the climb at his own pace, and after that strategy enabled him to move up to the front of the Roglič-led group, he’d gone on the attack. Once he was clear, though, he returned to the strategy of continuing at his own pace.
Although riding steadily paid off dividends, unlike earlier on the ascent having dropped Roglič and the rest, Ayuso almost had no choice but to find a good climbing rhythm, stick to it and trust he was gaining ground.
“It was impossible to know how far ahead I was of one group or how far I was behind the riders ahead,” Ayuso explained. “I had no idea of either so I was stuck in no-man's land.
“But the first few days here in Spain I wasn’t feeling so great, so I’m very happy things went so well today. I’ll have to keep trying to go all out from here on.”
Having gained over 40 seconds on his teammate and GC leader João Almeida, Ayuso explained that the Portuguese racer was established as an overall contender for Grand Tours, while Ayuso could afford to test his luck and see how far it got him.
“He’s got the experience and the palmares and I have no idea if on a given day I’m going to blow,” Ayuso argued. “So it’s great to have two leaders, I’ll keep at it regularly and try and keep up there.
"I’m here to learn, and going for a good result and learning go hand in hand."
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