Tour de l’Avenir winner Isaac del Toro is heading to UAE Team Emirates after all. The Mexican all-rounder, who won cycling’s premier race for under-23 riders this past August, has signed a three-year deal to join the WorldTour squad after spending the past several seasons at the A.R. Monex development team.
The move isn’t exactly a surprise, considering rumors abounded about a possible deal in the immediate aftermath of Del Toro’s victory, but the 19-year-old told Escape Collective at the time that he had yet to speak with the squad, and in a follow-up conversation this week, he said that it wasn’t until several weeks after the Tour de l’Avenir that he signed the contract.
At around six feet tall, he’s a bit taller than most other climbing prospects, and Del Toro noted that prior to the Tour de l’Avenir, he would have been delighted to join any WorldTour outfit – but he was suddenly presented with a variety of options after he won a stage and every major jersey at the French race for young prospects.
“When that [dream] becomes a reality, it’s complicated. It’s a bit stressful to make that decision because you want to make the best one. I think I did,” Del Toro told Escape Collective. “I’m a young rider, from another continent with a very different culture, so there are a lot of things to take into account.”
Del Toro said that with other offers on the table, UAE’s structured environment for riders was appealing, and the team’s track record with prospects seems to have played a prominent role in his decision too. The team has a history of securing young talents, like Juan Ayuso, and investing in their development for the long term. After all, a young Tadej Pogačar signed with UAE Team Emirates following his own Tour de l’Avenir victory five years ago.
“I wanted to be in team that didn’t have any pressure, where I could grow accustomed to the new peloton, and then start going for all of the results possible,” Del Toro said. “Obviously I’m an ambitious person and I want to win, but I want to win when I have the quality to do so. Our goals are more aligned than with the rest of the teams.”
Interestingly enough, Del Toro made the decision without an agent managing the details, preferring to handle things on his own instead. It helped that he had at least one rider acquaintance within the team who was able to give him the low-down on what to expect, which ultimately helped him make his decision to sign.
Del Toro said he also appreciates the international nature of the team (the 2024 roster features riders from 20 different nations). As UAE team manager Mauro Gianetti pointed out in the team’s press release announcing the news, Del Toro will be the first Mexican rider to sign with the squad.
With his next three years secured, Del Toro can now take a moment to relax and enjoy the offseason. After a few months to recharge, it’s onto the next chapter, which will take him from a relatively small development team directly to the sport’s top division with one of its very biggest teams.
For now, much remains up in the air. During his time with A.R. Monex, he has been living in San Marino, the microstate wholly surrounded by Italy, but he hasn’t decided for certain where he’ll be living yet after this year. He says that he doesn’t know yet what races he will be doing in his first season either.
More broadly, though, he does know that he will be trying to stay hungry for longer-term results even as his immediate focus shifts to improving his skills in the early days of his WorldTour career in a crowded UAE squad with plenty of other proven winners.
Given recent trends in rider development, it may be sooner rather than later that Del Toro starts to make his presence felt with the new squad. It obviously didn’t take long for Pogačar or the previous year’s Tour de l’Avenir winner, Egan Bernal, to make their marks on the WorldTour, while 2022 Tour de l’Avenir champ Cian Uijtdebroeks just rode to a top 10 at the Vuelta a España in his first-ever Grand Tour appearance at 20 years old.
Whether that sort of accelerated trajectory lies ahead for Del Toro remains to be seen, but having a three-year deal in place with UAE gives him a bit more runway than many other youngsters have as they try to find their way in the pro peloton.
“In the short team, [the goal] is to enjoy my development. I am just entering a team and obviously they don’t want you lose the spark of wanting to win, that’s something you always have to have, but in the end, I’m a young rider.”
In any case, Del Toro is confident that he will figure everything out in due course. In the meantime, he will have a chance to take a breather during the offseason. He will spend his time riding (obviously) but also getting to do the things he enjoys away from the bike: going for walks with only his earphones for company (and “music of every kind you can imagine”), watching documentaries, and following other sports, especially basketball, where he roots for the Los Angeles Lakers. For a six-foot teenager, that interest is maybe not surprising, but don’t look for any career switches.
“I may be tall, but I’m still young,” he said with a grin. “There is a lot that I want to achieve.”
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