The signs were already there when he finished in third place at the Tour Down Under Classic a few days ago. It was only an unranked criterium, but Isaac del Toro was firing on all cylinders. He launched attacks and punched out of the corners with raw power – a man who knew his form, a man ready to impress in his first season in the WorldTour. It was then that his rivals should have known that Del Toro was going to be a serious fixture in the professional peloton this season, but if they hadn’t quite got the gist, the UAE Team Emirates rider hammered it home in stage two of the Tour Down Under.
Del Toro’s pure, visceral love for racing shines through in his riding style – it’s almost like he can’t resist attacking and he doesn’t really have much control over it. The intermediate sprint for time bonuses in stage two was the first example: Del Toro shouldn’t, in theory, have been the guy who won the last remaining bonus second up for grabs, but he saw the chance and propelled himself to the line in just a few, powerful pedal strokes. When the finish rolled round one hundred kilometres later, it was a similar story.
Del Toro's winning attack was a perfectly timed exhibition on how to capitalise on the hesitation of others. He grabbed the chance when the moment came, moving with unmatchable speed on the hot roads into Lobethal, a sleepy town in South Australia that was lit on fire by the arrival of Isaac del Toro. It may have been his first WorldTour race, but the Mexican rider showed no signs of intimidation – he was here to win, a 20-year-old neo-pro or not.It may have been a surprise to those who didn’t know his name before today, but to UAE Team Emirates, Del Toro’s strength was to be expected.
“I knew from the last few days that he has a pretty crazy kick on him. You could hear him coming round the side of me on that last little kick at twice the speed. He could have freewheeled to the line and he still could have won,” Del Toro’s teammate, Finn Fisher-Black commented after the stage. “He's super excited to be here. He's never been on a pro team before... I remember when I was a neo-pro everything was super amazing, all the support you get from the team. He's fizzing. It's cool to see. Everyone knew his numbers were good from last year. He's the best neo-pro coming through. I think he can show it in the racing now.”
Those who keep a close eye on the under-23 racing scene will have also expected big things from Del Toro in his first WorldTour season. The Mexican rider made history when he won the prestigious Tour l’Avenir last year, taking the points and KOM jersey with him along the way. L’Avenir is a race known to produce some of the sport’s generational talents, namely Del Toro’s teammate, Tadej Pogačar who won the same race as an under-23 rider back in 2018.
It’s not just in their palmarès that parallels can be drawn between the Slovenian two-time Tour de France winner and Del Toro. Physically, they share similar attributes too, both able to produce a brutal acceleration and have strong finishing speed as well as climb well when they head to the mountains. The fearless, attacking style that Del Toro has shown at the Tour Down Under is reminiscent of Pogačar too – both riders are unafraid to try new things with unorthodox racing styles, refusing to be beholden to cycling’s rulebook of tactics.As Del Toro’s sports director, Marco Marcato, was quick to pragmatically point out, however, the Mexican rider’s career is still extremely fresh and it’s early to draw conclusions, despite his results.
“He's a good guy, he still has to learn, but it looks like he's learning fast. He already started well here, and he has potential and the talent. He won l'Avenir, those guys are normally good as professionals too,” Marcato commented after Del Toro’s stage win. “I think he is good on the climbs, but he can also move well in the bunch and see the race. He has good eyes to see the situation, and he can take an advantage from that. It's too early to say [if he’ll be like Pogačar]. Tadej is the only one. Isaac is a strong guy and he has the future in front of him. We’ve followed him since he was an amateur and this year was good timing to let him in the team.”
As for Del Toro himself, the young rider appeared shocked with his dream debut at the Tour Down Under, barely able to express his feelings after beating a world-class field. What comes next for Del Toro remains to be seen, but he has certainly introduced himself to the professional peloton now, with one of the firmest handshakes in the sport’s recent history of neo-pros.“I will try to enjoy today, that's all. It's too much for me. I kept dreaming [of winning]. I was here for one reason, and I always try to do my best, but it's incredible, to be honest,” Del Toro smiled after the stage. “The last kilometre felt like five. We wanted to win, but this is too much for me. Life, for me, is so good now.”