Less than a week ago, Isaac del Toro was something of an unknown quantity at cycling’s premier showcase for prospects, the Tour de l’Avenir. Being from Mexico, he was generally used to going unnoticed as a potential contender. As the 19-year-old up-and-comer started to impose himself on the Tour de l’Avenir, however, he saw that change in real time.
Battling with some of the GC favorites on the first climb of stage 7b, Del Toro realized that his rivals were starting to take note of him – and they didn’t want to push the pace if a rider of his caliber was in the group with them.
“I saw a Norwegian said to a rider from Great Britain, ‘Hey, hey, hey!’ Obviously it was all in English, but, ‘Stop! We can’t go!’ and the rider from Great Britain was really angry. He said, ‘Why?!’ He got mad,” Del Toro told Escape Collective this week.
“The Norwegian answered, ‘… because Del Toro is coming with us.’
“I noticed a tone of fear, of worrying. And I turned and we looked at each other in the eyes and honestly I just thought, ‘They are a bit afraid of me.'”
Having already won stage 6 on the Col de la Loze and finished third in the stage 7a time trial, Del Toro would go on to help force a split with a group of talented youngsters off the front on stage 7b. He gained time en route to the finish, and the following day, he surged to the top of the overall standings on the eighth and final stage. All told, he would finish the Tour de l’Avenir with a stage victory and every major jersey: the GC, the mountains classification, the points classification, and the young riders’ classification.
“To be honest, I’d be happy with the white jersey,” Del Toro said afterward. “This is insane.”
In a little over a week, he had gone from a promising, if lesser-known, prospect to having proven himself the dominant rider of the biggest under-23 race in the world, whose previous winners include Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar. It was a lot to take in for Mexico’s first Tour de l’Avenir winner.
“I don’t know how to describe it – it’s a very weird feeling,” he said of suddenly being in the spotlight.
“I feel really flattered and privileged. I try to take advantage of every opportunity I get but honestly I’m trying to handle it the best I can. It’s complicated. I feel like it’s so much support and I don’t know how to take it.”
Del Toro’s status as the new Tour de l’Avenir winner propels him to the forefront in discussions about cycling’s most exciting prospects, so we here at Escape Collective decided to learn more. Who is the rising Mexican star?
Still almost three months shy of his 20th birthday, Del Toro hails from Ensenada, a medium-sized city on the scenic Pacific Coast of Baja California. He credits his entry into the sport to his parents, and he says that living in Baja – close to the United States – gave him exposure to US racing culture as much as to that of Mexico. For years, he has competed in both road and cyclocross races.
He has ridden for A.R. Monex, a development team focused on young Mexican talents, for some four years by now, and he has already spent years based in San Marino, the tiny micro-state fully surrounded by Italy. In other words, even if Del Toro’s 2023 campaign may have put him on the proverbial map for the larger cycling world and the media, his ascendance has been a long time in the making.
Del Toro already had several years of junior racing under his belt before this season, and he has also already faced some very hard moments in his young career. As he explained to Escape Collective, Del Toro was hoping to make his mark on last year’s Tour de l’Avenir, but his 2022 campaign was derailed by a terrible leg injury in which he lost a frightening amount of blood.
“I wasn’t a favorite but I wanted to do something – I wanted a top 15 if it was possible in my first year,” he said. “Unfortunately, I crashed in training and I broke my femur and damaged my femoral artery.
“I spent some bad nights in the hospital, five or six days, in which the doctors knew I had broken an artery, so they were giving me blood every day. There were nights in which I went to sleep crying in pain.”
He had so little energy that he even had trouble eating and had to rely on others to help him. Del Toro explained that the experience gave him a whole new perspective.
“I have never needed to ask for help, fortunately,” he said. “My parents had raised me with a mentality and the capacity to do things myself. The fact that the nurses had to help me, completely, it was very hard for me personally. I didn’t have enough hemoglobin for five or six days. Getting out of there with the help of the team, lots of people, my family, it was honestly incredible. It was the hardest moment of my life.”
It took some time for Del Toro to be able to get back on the bike, but little by little, he recovered from the injury and eventually resumed training.
Things started to get back on track for Del Toro this season, in which he put up some top-10s in under-23 races and even the UCI 2.1-rated Sibiu Cycling Tour before landing on the podium at the prestigious Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta-Mont Blanc. Then it was on to the Tour de l’Avenir, where he ascended to a stage 6 victory on the mighty Col de la Loze and ultimately took the overall title.
One does not simply win on the Col de la Loze without being an elite climber, but Del Toro also finished third in the TT the next day, showing himself to be a capable all-rounder.
Not surprisingly, Del Toro sees himself as a stage racing specialist. Asked how he’d characterize himself as a rider, he pointed to climbing and time trialing as his main focuses, while the bunch kicks are something that he prefers to leave up to others to contest. It’s already fairly obvious that he can climb quite well, and he believes he has the body type and the mentality to continue to build on his strengths against the clock. As humbly as possible, he also pointed out that his build – his height and weight – are quite similar to that of Tao Geoghegan Hart.
Based on Del Toro’s Tour de l’Avenir success, it would be a surprise if pro teams around the peloton aren’t considering bringing him on board. Indeed, rumors of contact with UAE Team Emirates have already begun to circulate, even making their way onto the Spanish language Vuelta a España broadcast – but Del Toro told Escape Collective that he has yet to get that phone call.
“I’ve heard the stories that Javier Areas and [Alberto] Contador mentioned me and honestly, I like hearing those rumors,” Del Toro said with a smile. “And I understand, why not? In the end, [A.R. Monex] is sponsored by Colnago and for the Tour de l’Avenir, for the temperatures, I decided to buy a white helmet and it happened to be a MET [a sponsor of UAE Team] that was the one that the shop had. But really it’s just a lot of coincidences. The truth is I’d love to go there but really, they are just rumors.”
Rumors or no, it would make plenty of sense for UAE or any other team to be champing at the bit to sign the young Mexican up-and-comer. Every Tour de l’Avenir winner dating back to 2011 is currently signed to a WorldTeam or ProTeam (and the 2010 winner was Nairo Quintana). If history is any indication, Del Toro will very likely be ascending into the higher echelons of the pro peloton, just as he ascended to the Tour de l’Avenir victory last weekend.
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