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Astana’s Fabio Aru, 25, has completed five grand tours, winning the Vuelta a España last season, finishing on the podium on two other occasions and finishing fifth on a fourth occasion.

Photo: Unipublic




06.06.2016 @ 12:07 Posted by Jesper Ralbjerg

However, as he spearheads the Astana team at this year’s Tour de France, he will make his debut in la Grande Boucle where he is expected to slug it out in the mountains against the likes of defending Tour champion Chris Froome (SKY), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).


So far, though, the Sardinian has endured a less than stellar first half of the current season. In fact, he has not raced since he ignominiously withdrew from the Amstel Gold Race on April 17. Currently, Aru is competing in the Criterium du Dauphine, where he lost 1’ 08” to Contador in yesterday’s 3.9 km prologue. On the eve of the weeklong French stage race Aru, coming off a 22 days training camp, spoke to Gazzetta dello Sport.


"Yes. Certainly, closing the opening stage of the season with withdrawals in the Tour of the Basque Country and at the Amstel, it was not pleasant. I was left with a bitter taste. But I’ve turned the page."


Last week his Astana teammate Vincenzo Nibali completed a remarkable Giro d’Italia comeback to snatch the overall win from Orica Green-EDGE climbing star Esteban Chaves. Since then, it has been hinted that Nibali will team up with Aru in a supporting role in the Sardinian’s bid to conquer the Tour. Questions concerning Aru’s ability to co-exist with Nibali at the Tour are likely to arise as the riders weave their way through the French countryside. However, Aru, as might be expected, was adamant that there will not be any problems.


"For Astana, and for me, having someone like Vincenzo at the start of the Tour will be an added bonus.Knowing Vincenzo, I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds the legs to complete the Giro-Tour double that hasn’t been achieved since Pantani in 1998. We will make a beautiful couple, and riding together in the Tour will allow us to practise for what lies ahead at the Olympics."


With regards to the Criterium du Dauphine, Aru attempted to downplay expectations.


"I expect a hard struggle. My main objective is to put kilometres into my legs. The course is hard but it is designed well, with an uphill time trial to start with and the last three stages that should decide the general classification. I think I have prepared well, but the overall result isn’t terribly important, as the Tour is still a month away."


During his training camp, Aru also got a chance to go on a reconnaissance of the Alpine stages of the Tour.


"Those stages are really hard. Very demanding. In particular, I was struck by the route of the 17 km individual time trial up the Sallanches. There is a bit of everything. A challenging climb, false flats and a descent. Put together, this could be the decisive day for deciding the outcome of the Tour."


Inevitably, Aru was also quizzed about his main rivals and asked to compare the riders who are most likely to make his life miserable in the Pyrenees and in the Alps.


"Contador, Froome, Quintana ... I consider them all on the same level. I would say that so far Thibaut Pinot is doing a great season, and could be the surprise. But a rider like that in reality is a certainty. Competing against such high-calibre riders galvanizes me. At the Vuelta in 2014, I came fifth behind Contador, Froome, Valverde and Rodriguez and I even managed to win two stages. It is a result I am proud of even today."


"I will have a strong and experienced team by my side and riding the Tour, I will feel like a child who opens the Easter egg. I cannot wait to find out what the Tour is all about.”



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