Isaac Del Toro during the Volta ao Algarve stage 4 time trial.

The next big thing: Is it too early to get excited about victorious newcomers?

Isaac Del Toro had a very good day in the ITT at the Volta ao Algarve, another top performance for one of the season's stand-out young riders.

Kit Nicholson
by Kit Nicholson 17.02.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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It’s a funny time of year, this. We’re three weeks into February after the always interminable January, and it still feels rather wintery in the northern hemisphere, but time continues to crawl onwards, and with that, the road season gathers apace.

While some of the big names are beginning to enjoy tantalising early-season skirmishes, we’ve also seen several youngsters make themselves known on the world stage since the Aussie summer races, including Isaac Del Toro, Nienke Vinke, Rosita Reijnhout, Luke Lamperti and Paul Magnier, with others like Neve Bradbury and Oscar Onley taking another step up, all of them outfoxing and/or outpunching top-tier rivals, prompting a flurry of enthusiastic wonderment.

It’s still very early in the year though, and it feels important to remind ourselves of this from time to time. That’s not to say that the likes of Del Toro and Magnier will disappear into obscurity once all the old hands have returned to the field, and sure, any of these early-season winners could indeed be the next big thing, but when we’ve been starved of action and spectacle for so many months, it’s easy to pile on the superlatives.

On Saturday afternoon’s 22-kilometre ITT at the Volta ao Algarve, Del Toro made his next big statement of the early 2024 season, earning his first stint in a professional hotseat after a much-anticipated first TT for the 20-year-old Mexican who’s already being compared to his UAE teammate Tadej Pogačar. That his time would not be broken by either Filippo Ganna or Wout van Aert seemed to add credence to the inevitable comparison and many felt the hyperbole creeping in.

World champion Remco Evenepoel in the rainbow bands during the Volta ao Algarve stage 4 time trial.
Now 24, Evenepoel won stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve by 16 seconds, moving into the race lead by 47 seconds over stage-2 winner Dani Martínez of Bora-Hansgrohe.

By the end of the stage – won convincingly by Remco Evenepoel who also took over the yellow jersey before Sunday’s final summit finish – Del Toro had only slipped to fourth behind the TT world champion, Magnus Sheffield and Stefan Küng, marking another tick in the GC prospect column for the 2023 Tour de l’Avenir champ. And he beat Ganna! And Van Aert?! Sure, Ganna was about as disappointed as we’ve ever seen him in his post-race interview following an off-day (off-day = 6th, 47 seconds off the pace), but Van Aert was philosophical, even content at the microphone despite finishing outside the top 10.

Something that’s great about this time of year is that while Van Aert and co. are riding themselves into form for the bigger objectives, the young guns, especially those on a nice crisp contract, are fresh off an adrenaline- and excitement-fuelled off-season, eager to perform for their new bosses and teammates among their idols, and at races on a level they’ve only dreamed of.

This time of year and the new names it brings with it whets the appetite for the season ahead. It’s just the beginning, in more ways than one.

Until next week. Next week sees the double-header of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, or Opening Weekend, that launches the classics. Next week anticipation and excitement will be rampant across the cobbles and bergs of Belgium, and hyperbole justified, as the season advances into one of its most thrilling and significant phases.

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