Tadej Pogačar is rightly seen as the best rider in the peloton after his Tour de France victories and Classics success but if training data is anything to consider, the Slovenian could soon be challenged by his own UAE Team Emirates teammate Juan Ayuso.
The pair two went head-to-head on the Coll de Rates climb after a long training ride during a recent training camp in Spain, and it was a close contest.
Ayuso is still only 19 but is considered Spain’s next great thing. He won the Under 23 Giro in 2021, finished second at the Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika race on his professional debut, and has the talent and natural ambition needed to emerge at WorldTour level.
Ayuso is arguably Pogačar's understudy at UAE Team Emirates and the team appear happy that their friendly rivalry motivates both riders.
According to a detailed behind-the-scenes report by Spanish newspaper El Pais, Pogačar won the race to the top of the Coll de Rates near Calpe after a five and half hour ride, but only by 14 seconds
He dropped Ayuso on the final 14 per cent section of the climb but Ayuso was able to limit his losses. Both riders quickly published their data on Strava, with Michal Kwiatkowski’s top time of 27:01 dropping to a distant third place.
Twitter data specialist Ammattipyöräily calculated that Pogačar produced an impressive VAM of 1605 m/h and so produced 5.9 watts per kilogram for the 9.7km climb.
"It was one of the hardest days of this training camp and we tested ourselves, we saw how fit we are on the Coll de Rates and on another climb," Pogačar confirmed.
"I feel very good, my form is where I want it to be. I also think Ayuso is going to be super strong, even this year, he's super motivated and thinking about his big goals. He will have his chances and so should show just how good he is."
UAE Team Emirates team manager Joxean Matxin and coach Íñigo San Milán followed the Pogačar-Ayuso training race on the Coll de Rates with admiration for both riders from the team car.
"That’s what they’re like, they’re competitive," San Milán told El Pais of their rivalry. "They’re going to do well in their first races."
San Millán had already seen the two were on form in a lab test carried out during the team camp.
"I tested both of them at the same time so that they got tense, so that Tadej can see that he can’t relax because Ayuso is coming on strong, so that Juan can see that he is approaching the best. Both impressed me. At the Coll de Rates, Tadej’s training intensity was similar to that of a Tour stage. If Ayuso does this in a race when Tadej isn't there..."
Mutual respect but big amibtions
Pogacar’s first goal is to again win the UAE Tour in February. He will then target several classics before focusing on a third consecutive Tour de France victory.
Ayuso will make his season debut at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in early February before riding a series of week-long stage races, including the Volta a Catalunya, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné. He is not scheduled to ride any Grand Tours in 2022 but he is ambitious. He is currently working on his early-season form at an altitude camp at Spain’s Sierra Nevada.
For now, Pogacar is team leader at UAE Team Emirates.
"Ayuso says what he thinks but he knows that this year Tadej has the (leadership) stripes," San Millán revealed.
"Of course, he thinks that Tadej does not represent his limit, his goal is to be better than Tadej. He has big ambitions and dreams big. He asks: Why is it impossible to beat Tadej?
"And he is very professional. The best riders are from another planet, they’re competitive animals, they’re made for this. They don't know how to live without ambition, without being the best in the world. It’s addictive for them."
Ayuso is quietly spoken but confident. He told Cyclingnews last year how he spent some of his childhood in the USA and has recently finished his studies at an English-language school near his home in Jávea near Alicante.
"I have a very good relationship with Tadej. I'm lucky to have the best in the world on the team, he’s a point of reference. I’m fortunate to know that he's there and that I’m able to follow in his footsteps. I have to take advantage of that, like on Sunday: go out with him, train with him, follow and learn from him," Ayuso said at the recent UAE Team Emirates media day.
"The team asks me to win, and I ask myself the same, but that is precisely my motivation. I'm the first to make demands on myself, so it's not something that worries me. I know that this is a sport and there are other things in life and I also know how to deal with failure."
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Get The Leadout Newsletter
The latest race content, interviews, features, reviews and expert buying guides, direct to your inbox!
Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.