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Juan Ayuso on 2023 Vuelta a España return: ‘After you come third, you only think about trying to win’

20-year-old sensation carries Pogačar-esque grand tour and Ardennes ambition into 2023: 'He is the example to follow.'

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There’s no holding back 20-year-old sensation Juan Ayuso.

The UAE Emirates wunderkind is already dreaming of going two steps higher on the Vuelta a España podium after scoring a breakout third-place this summer.

“I want to try in the Vuelta again. In 2024 I will change grand tours, but next year I want to focus on the Vuelta as my objective,” Ayuso told El País.

“This year I finished third, so why shouldn’t I dream of victory? After you come in third, you can only think about trying to win.”

Ayuso ended his first full WorldTour season with an exclamation point at this year’s Vuelta.

The Barcelona native topped established GC stars like Miguel Ángel López and Giro d’Italia champions Richard Carapaz and Jai Hindley in what was his longest race since he last year crushed the 10-day development tour the “Baby Giro.”

“From ten days to 21 is twice as much, but I recovered very well and was at my best in the third week,” Ayuso said. “There I came closest to Enric Mas and Remco Evenepoel. That gives a lot of confidence for next year. It’s the litmus test for big tour riders.”

Also read: Ayuso on third at Vuelta a España: ‘I’ve proven I can one day win these races’

Then aged 19, Ayuso became second-youngest rider to ever climb on a grand tour podium when he slotted in below Evenepoel and Mas this summer.

With a blockbuster contract stretching through 2028, Ayuso’s ride through his grand tour debut planted the Spaniard deep into UAE Emirates’ GC ambitions. He joins Tadej Pogačar, Brandon McNulty, João Almeida and new signing Adam Yates in a rich reserve of stage race talent.

Ardennes ambitions for Pogačar V.2

Ayuso scored a breakout third-place at this year’s Vuelta. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

UAE Emirates will schedule out its grand tour artillery at team camp next month, but Ayuso is pushing for a Pogačar-esque program of stage races and classics with the Vuelta at the center.

“I’ll talk it over with the team bosses and we’ll combine interests to work out the best calendar,” he said. “I’ll do more WorldTour races, but of a similar type as this year. Week-long stage races, Ardennes, a break, then the Vuelta.”

Ayuso long looked toward Pogačar as his guiding star.

The twosome crushed a series of KoMs on training camp this winter as the Spanish upstart snapped at his teammate’s heels and made the Slovenian his mentor.

“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 in January. “He is a reference point, someone in whose footsteps I want to follow. Learning from him is a luxury.”

Ayuso hasn’t yet hit the monument trail and DNFd on rookie runs through Amstel Gold and La Flèche Wallonne this season.

But with a first pro victory at the Circuito de Getxo and four more top-5s from one-day races in 2022, Ayuso could be wingman number one for Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia champion Pogačar in spring’s hilly races.

“He is the example to follow,” Ayuso said of his Slovenian teammate. “I know I can do well in the one-days and that’s why I want to test myself in the Ardennes next year.”

Pogačar won the Tour de France and hit the podium of Liège the year after he finished third in his Vuelta a España grand tour debut.

Ayuso will have him on speed-dial during the off-season.