This article originally appeared on Velo News
PUERTO DE NAVACERRADA, Spain (VN) - There's a new kid on the block at this Vuelta a Espana, and no, it's not Remco Evenepoel.
Teenage sensation Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) lived up to his coffers-crushing contract by booking himself in for third overall at the Vuelta a Espana with a ripsnorter attacking ride to Puerto de Navacerrada on Saturday.
"I think this confirms me, not to the people, but I’ve proven to myself that I can be a grand tour rider and that I can one day win these races. That’s the most important thing,” Ayuso said at the finishline after he secured his place on the Vuelta podium.
The 19-year-old Ayuso was born during the weeks when Alejandro Valverde first rode the Vuelta in 2002. 19 years later, he steps square into the Spanish spotlight, just at the point Valverde rides toward retirement.
The Spanish wunderkind blazed through the junior level and was fast-tracked through the continental division to land a ride alongside Tadej Pogacar in a contract with UAE Emirates that spans through to 2028.
He stole the spotlight in his team's winter training camp with KoM competitions against his Slovenian teammate, but like any grand tour rookie, no one knew whether he had the legs over three weeks.
The former “Baby Giro” winner had never competed in a race longer than 10 days before he was called up to race his home grand tour this summer. But like Pogacar did three years ago at the 2019 Vuelta, Ayuso blazed through his grand tour debut.
The broad-shouldered Spanish star slotted in above his co-captain and established GC contender Joao Almeida to take the center of UAE Emirates’ ambition in the past three weeks.
-- @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) September 10, 2022
The kid was so confident after three weeks of racing he even wanted to steal the spotlight with a stage win Saturday.
"I told the team I was feeling good. We wanted to go for the stage and they worked perfectly. We had two guys right in the front, and I won the sprint from the group. But it's meaningless. But I just have to be happy I’m on the podium,” Ayuso said after finishing third on the stage Saturday.
Pogacar crushed his grand tour debut at age 19 with third overall and three stage-wins.
Ayuso didn't quite match that, but you can be sure he'll keep pushing Pogacar all the way for some time yet.
“The podium in my first grand tour at 19 years of age,” Ayuso said. “It’s just incredible."
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