This article was originally published in Spanish at Volata
There were turbulent times in the world of cycling in 2003. The Tour de France that year was won by Lance Armstrong ahead of Jan Ullrich and Aleksandr Vinokourov, while Gilberto Simoni won the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España was won by Roberto Heras. Those were different times. Those names were far away from the thoughts of sports fans in Ensenada, one of the main cities in the state of Baja California, in Mexico. Baseball, football and surfing are the favourite sports in this part of the northeastern corner of Mexico, less than two hours drive from the US border.
However cycling did stir passion in some homes. “My dad was a cyclist and my mum wanted my brother and I to be sportsmen.” Isaac Del Toro, born in November 2003, did not see any of those names from that era of racing. His love for the sport came to him through his parents’ stubbornness, but also because “I got into cycling by watching the Tour de France with Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome.” Now, Del Toro has signed for the formidable UAE Team Emirates after wrapping up a historic exhibition for Mexican cycling in the world’s leading race for young riders.
In late August last year, Del Toro climbed to the top of the Tour de l'Avenir podium to collect the GC, mountains, points and best young rider jersey, having also claimed a stage victory along the way. Never before has a Mexican rider won the Tour de l'Avenir. Del Toro's show of strength and tactics was absolute despite having to come from behind to win the race. American Matthew Riccitello took the lead on the sixth stage finishing at Col de la Loze and, the following day, widened the gap by winning the individual time trial at Les Karellis. There was one final stage left where Del Toro had to fight against everyone. First of all, he had to leave Riccitello behind and then opt for an intelligent strategy due to his numerical inferiority, with no team-mates. “At some point, there were up to six against one,” he recalls.
That absolute exhibition caught him off guard. “After winning the Tour de l'Avenir, my mobile phone basically exploded. There were people who I didn't know could have my Whatsapp, I was getting calls all the time and it was really chaotic. Honestly, I couldn't get things right. I went out to train and I wasn’t doing well, I couldn't focus.” Del Toro had made history but the hardest part was to digest his success. “I focused on my team, on doing things for them, and on being with my family, on living with them.” And then, all of a sudden, he had to decide where to aim his future. “I spoke to everyone because my situation is complicated because I come from another country, from another continent, and despite having victories, I am someone who still has a lot to learn. I decided on UAE Team Emirates because of the way they see things, because they offered me the focus I needed, because of everything they wanted to give me.”
When he talks about his career, Del Toro constantly refers to the same reference point to hold on to: his family, his friends, his country. The distance from his environment is a pain that he manages to overcome the best he can. He still doesn't know where he will settle down to live now that his profession forces him to spend a large part of the year in Europe: “I'm thinking about it, probably somewhere in Italy or in Spain.” Despite his uprootedness and youth, the Mexican rider's personality is strong and his discourse is clear. “I can do things well, that's all I want. I know I can be good but I don't know how far [I can go],” he admits. He adds that he is “constantly learning something day by day. In ten years I hope to still be enjoying myself as much as I am now. I’d like that and to be a versatile cyclist.”
Prudence and humility are two of the values quickly transmitted by a boy who knows very well where he comes from: “After L’Avenir I spent two months in Italy, although a couple of weeks after the race I made up my mind and I spoke to all the teams and thanked them for their interest. ” He decided to join UAE, a team that has a strong commitment to young riders and has signed six new riders for the coming season. With the exception of Nils Politt and Pavel Sivakov, the others are promising youngsters: Antonio Morgado (19), Igor Arrieta (21) and Filippo Baroncini (23). Del Toro has already completed a first training camp alongside Tadej Pogačar, the undisputed leader of the team, in late 2023 before jetting off to Australia, where he kicked off his WorldTour career successfully at the Tour Down Under. “When I started with this team I knew it would be complicated, but up to this point, it's clear to me that I made the best decision. I'm happy to be part of this family, it's amazing to sit at the same table as all of them.”
2023 changed Isaac Del Toro's life forever, with his overall victory in the Tour de l'Avenir and a third place in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. So far cycling was just a game to him, but from now on he will have to grow up quickly. “I have a timetable to grow and develop, that's what I want, to learn the trade of a professional cyclist,” he admits. And he is going to do it his own way. “I don't have a manager. Everything has happened very quickly and I have always been supported by my family and close friends. I'm happy like this, I know that managers are useful but I'm fine like this.”