Juan Ayuso may be forgiven for having déjà vu on the second rest day of the Vuelta a España. Last year, on his debut at the age of 19, the Spaniard headed into the final week at 4:49 down on race leader Remco Evenepoel following a brutal climb of Sierra Nevada.
This time around, with six days to go he’s back in fourth place, albeit this time only 2:37 off the red jersey, held by Sepp Kuss at the head of a Jumbo-Visma triumvirate.
Ayuso heads up a three-pronged attack of his own at UAE Team Emirates, with teammates Marc Soler (sixth at 3:10) and João Almeida (10th at 8:39) also lying inside the top 10 on GC.
The duo of trios face a tougher final week in comparison to 2022 – the Alto de L’Angliru and Puerto de la Cruz de Linares are the toughest of four upcoming mountainous days – with Ayuso seeing the disturbingly steep Angliru (where the numbers of 12.4km and 9.8% somehow undersell the challenges of the climb) as the place to take the fight to Jumbo-Visma.
“Having three guys like they did on Tourmalet is not so much of an effect because being on the wheel isn’t an advantage,” Ayuso said in Monday’s rest day press conference, referring to the Dutch squad’s domination of stage 13.
“I think for us the best stage is Angliru. I think the next day, the Puerto de la Cruz de Linares is even harder than Angliru. But there again we have climbs which, if you’re in the wheel, it does help.
“I think the biggest day where everyone is going to try and take on Jumbo is Angliru because of this. We just have to hope that on that day, they don’t have the legs and that we can drop them.”
In the quest to topple the Jumbo-Visma podium sitters, Ayuso and his UAE Team Emirates teammates aren’t inclined to immediately seek partnerships with other teams, however.
“On the side of Almeida and Soler, of course, it’s good to have them,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the other teams like Bahrain Victorious and Bora-Hansgrohe are still rivals.
“Of course, if there’s a situation where we can work together to put Jumbo-Visma under pressure then we will. Maybe we can race together but as I say, at the end of the day they’re also rivals.”
‘Until we arrive in Madrid, anything can happen’
Ayuso finished last year’s Vuelta in third overall, 4:57 down on Evenepoel and behind Movistar’s Enric Mas, who sits 29 seconds behind him heading into…