Pedal Punditry #5 | Isaac Del Toro is putting his career at risk by signing with UAE Team Emirates until 2029

Isaac Del Toro is one of the brightest talents in pro cycling. A rider who struggled to even turn pro just a matter of months ago now has the longest contract in the sport, but this incredibly fast rise may come with serious risks for his career.

The Mexican rider is currently preparing for the small Vuelta a Asturias, where he will be the race headliner and possibly main favourite for victory due to the modest competition. 20 years old and a pro rider for just three months, it is a logical goal for the talented climber. However it is interesting that simultaneously, he has signed the current longest contract in pro cycling and has raced alongside the likes of Jonas Vingegaard and Remco Evenepoel over the last few months. Isaac del Toro's career trajectory is one that is almost unmatched, but comes with it's risks.

Up until last year, Del Toro raced for an amateur team named A.R. Monex Pro Cycling Team, a 10-rider squad based in San Marino but built out of 9 Mexican riders. Up until last year, there was also no real reason to give Del Toro much attention when it came to a big future in pro cycling. However in the Italian calendar he managed to show some results, and ultimately race into a surprising third at the mountainous Giro della Valle d'Aosta, on the podium together with now-pros Darren Rafferty (of EF Education-EasyPost) and Alexey Faure Prost (of Intermarché-Wanty).

This saw him come into the Tour de l'Avenir as an outsider for the overall classification. However his support was far behind the superior teams. In the team time-trial Mexico was among the last, with Del Toro losing two minutes to the day's winner's. A gap that would've been bigger, but race organizers decided that any team that lost over two minutes would have the differences limited, so as to not harm the chances of young talents in modest teams exactly like him from fighting for a top result.

His rise was then quick. A second place on stage 2, but on stage 6 up to the insanely difficult Col de la Loze, Del Toro took the victory ahead of Matthew Riccitello, climbing into third place and the fight for victory. Over the following days he climbed to second, but it was only on the final day of racing that, in a 99-kilometer stage, he and Giulio Pellizzari attacked in the first kilometers on the high-altitude Col de l'Iseran to succeed in one of the most ambitious raids of the season. As Riccitello struggled after so many days of hard racing, Del Toro thrived in the consistency, climbing, altitude and every aspect that is required out of a pro cyclist. In Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise, he was crowned the race winner, and his performances immediately gathered the attention of many.

Of fans, who were quickly stunned on how such a talent, specially in an era where teams are signing riders fresh out of the junior ranks already, was not yet signed. Del Toro, an under-23 Tour de France winner, was suddenly a gold nugget in a river that had already been explored by all World Tour teams. But weeks went on, and on... And no news of his future. The main reason being obvious, there is a certain reluctance in teams signing riders outside of Europe and Australia, this has been the case since forever in cycling. Colombia broke this trend and became a source of countless talented climbers in the last 15 years, Mexico could become the next scouting location due to the discovery of such a talented rider who may not have even turned pro if something as small as an illness would've affected him last summer.

"After the Tour de l'Avenir my phone exploded. There were many people I didn't even know I had on my Whatsapp and it was very chaotic because I didn't know how to do things right at that moment," he admitted some months after. "I was sick in the head and I didn't even know how to train, but I had to make a decision and that's when I started talking to the teams. However, I wanted to be with my friends and family to talk to them about my decision. It was very complicated because I come from another country, another culture, another continent and the last thing I want is to feel bad or overwhelmed at some point during the year."

On the 1st of October, around one month after his victory in France, he finally confirmed his decision and it was announced that he had signed with UAE Team Emirates. Del Toro effectively had no agent and did all the communication with 'countless teams' by himself. "I'm 20 years old and I'm a person who still has a lot to learn and I wouldn't want to be under pressure. I decided on UAE because of the way they do things. And I think it's what I need," were his words after a career-changing move.

Isaac Del Toro wins stage 2 of 2024 Tour Down Under. @Sirotti

Del Toro signed a three-year contract until 2026. He has, half a year later, signed yet another three-year contract on the top of the existing one. He made his debut in the Down Under Classic, riding to third on a flat classic, which immediately became even more of a reason to wonder what he could do. He was allowed to start his pro career at the Tour Down under where the racing is calm and in good weather. Sure enough, on stage 2, he wins out of a late move on a stage that had a flat finale. For a rider who was thought of as a climber, this came as a shock. He didn't secure the ochre jersey, but he finished third on his very first stage-race in the elite ranks and one that is at World Tour level. A month after, he finished fourth in the time-trial of the Volta ao Algarve, ahead of riders such as Filippo Ganna and Wout van Aert. At Tirreno-Adriatico, he had freedom to chase his result, and with calm and collected racing at pace, he impressed in both mountain stages where he finished seventh and fourth, ending the race in fourth overall despite supporting team leader Juan Ayuso.

Fast forward a few weeks and he finished seventh at Itzulia Basque Country, again whilst supporting Ayuso who went on to win the overall classification. This is a meteoric rise for the 20-year old, and after a few weeks of less action, on the 23rd of April UAE Team Emirates announces the extension. Del Toro has now inked with the team until 2029, presumably with a higher salary, but with the longest-standing contract in the sport - ahead of his own teammates such as Juan Ayuso or Tadej Pogacar, Mathieu van der Poel, Jonas Vingegaard and female stars Lorena Wiebes and Lotte Kopecky. Some of these contracts were also signed in 2024, but UAE's interest in Del Toro simply drove the team to make an offer for the upcoming five seasons - not counting the ongoing one, which is still in it's first half.

This is a perfect situation for UAE Team Emirates, who have him secured until his 26 years of age. Riders nowadays reach incredible levels in their early 20's, his teammates as good examples, and this ensures the team locked one of the biggest talents in cycling for a significant part of his career. The team has the financial means to make such moves, but most likely because it is a rider who is so new into the pro scene and has not yet even raced a Grand Tour or won against some of the best riders, his salary will likely be limited when comparing to the riders he is expected to race against in a few years. The first argument why I believe this extra contract extension was not necessary, for his sake.

Del Toro is 20 years old, with a three-year deal in the team that is performing the best this season. He's got freedom to chase his results, a nice salary likely as the team packs a huge punch in the current outlook of cycling, and teammates who he can look up to like Tadej Pogacar. Besides that, he has plenty young teammates including many who speak his native language. I see every reason why Del Toro is happy with the team and is in a place that suits him very well. He may make his Grand Tour debut this year at the Vuelta a España. In 2025 and 2026, Giro d'Italia and Tour de France debuts are on the table.

In these three years he will assess his talent in the Grand Tours, he will understand and figure out how well he can adapt to permanently live in Europe. In 2026, depending on his evolution, he would then make the decision on whether he would like to move to another team for a bigger sense of leadership and freedom, or remain with UAE, sign a new contract with a very high salary and continue to pursue his goals. But that will not happen. He is skipping steps. If he finds himself in 2026, or 2027 (or so on, you get the point) and think to himself that he is ready to move on from UAE, he won't. It is in my opinion rushing a step with no necessity. UAE has everything to gain from it, they will now not have to worry about him departing, and can't be forced into raising his salary for the next five years. But what does Del Toro gain from this?

Isaac Del Toro at 2024 Tirreno-Adriatico. @Sirotti

Apart from a temporary raise (I assume, I do not have inside information), I simply don't see anything. UAE reportedly have a 100-million euro contract clause on Pogacar meaning it is impossible for any team to buy out his contract. The team is the most strict of all when it comes to securing their leaders. It can be said quite confidently that no-one will be able to convince UAE to let go Del Toro, and so he effectively loses the power of choice after a few years when he consolidates himself as a pro rider.

This is perhaps even more important for a rider who, as he correctly analyzed, comes from another continent and culture. A few South American riders have in the past had serious difficulties adapting to life in Europe, and I do fear that this could happen to Del Toro. Injuries will happen, goals will not be achieved, at some point these big obstacles will appear in his career as is the case with all riders. He did not have an agent when he decided to make his move to UAE and I feel like in the buzz of a spectacular few months where nothing has gone wrong, he has made a decision that may prove costly in the years to come.

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