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Pogačar’s apprentice: Juan Ayuso is the red-hot rookie you need to know about

Ayuso is already snapping at Pogačar's heels in his first full season with UAE Emirates and has eyes on surpassing the Slovanian sometime soon.

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The humble apprentice eventually surpasses their master in every good movie, right? Just ask Luke Skywalker.

If that’s the case, Spanish wunderkind Juan Ayuso is shaping up as the junior waiting to punch past Tadej Pogačar in the UAE Emirates screenplay.

Ayuso, 19, joined UAE Emirates last summer and is already bumping bars with his superstar teammate.

“Ayuso and I, we have done some training rides together. It was one of the hardest days of this camp, we tried out our shapes on the Coll des Rates and one other climb,” Pogačar said in a recent media call.

“Ayuso is going to be super strong this year already. He is super motivated, and thinking of big goals already. If he has an opportunity this year he can grab it and show how good he is.”

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A team training camp in this past month saw Ayuso snapping at Pogačar’s heels for a week of big miles on the Costa Blanca.

The pair’s pitched battle on the infamous Coll de Rates climb saw them go one-two at the top of the Strava leaderboard in a ride that exploded over the cycling Twittersphere. Not bad for some kid not long out of juniors, huh?

Pogačar crushed the Rates KoM with Ayuso not far behind.

‘His goal is to be better than Tadej’

Ayuso demolished the Spanish junior scene through 2019 and 2020 before winning big in Europe last year.

Victory at the prestigious “Baby Giro” last summer saw Ayuso living up to the hype that had earned him a contract through 2025 with the world’s new superteam, UAE Team Emirates. Three stage wins and a three-minute victory made for a Pogačar-esque demolition.

Also read: Ayuso bosses the ‘Baby Giro’

And now, with a busy early-season schedule with UAE Team Emirates that is set to include a swath of Spanish stage races, the Ardennes classics, and the Critérium du Dauphiné, tongues are wagging at what Ayuso could do in the World Tour.

And Ayuso isn’t shy in bringing his crushing confidence into the equation.

“The team asks me to win and I ask that of myself – it’s my motivation,” he told Spanish media last week. “I’m part of an ambitious team, and I’m happy about that.”

Ayuso already sees Pogačar as his role model and closest mentor after they shared wheels for a week on team camp. It’s the beginning of a blossoming bromance that could be bullying the WorldTour very soon.

“Training with Pogačar is a fantastic experience. He is the best in the world and it is an honor to race with him,” Ayuso said. “He is a reference point, someone in whose footsteps I want to follow. Learning from him is a luxury. When I speak to him, he sees himself from a few years ago. It’s a different level, but there are similarities. That’s why we get along very well.”

For now, Ayuso knows he’s the number two at UAE’s latest love-in.

That slice of humble pie may not last long though. The pair’s coach Íñigo San Millán says the young apprentice is already raring to better his double Tour de France-winning mentor.

“Ayuso says what he thinks, but he knows that this year Tadej has the [captain’s] stripes,” San Millán told El Pais.

“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?’”

It’s a prospect that sets up the prospect of the type of popcorn-munching drama typically only seen in the Movistar documentaries.

Ayuso is not likely to see any grand tour racing this year, but he’s burst onto the scene just at the right time.

With Alejandro Valverde finally riding into retirement and Movistar’s Enric Mas eight years his senior, Ayuso’s massive TT motor and Coll de Rates conquering climbing sets him up as the next Spanish GC star.

But first things first, he’s got to push past Pogačar and fellow new recruit João Almeida in the busy UAE Emirates bus. It seems it may not take long.

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