With eight victories this year in category 1 and HC races, Jon Aberasturi (Team Ukyo) is Spain's second biggest winner in the 2017 season behind Alejandro Valverde, who collected eleven. Being Mikel Landa's training partner, he's plenty ready to return to Europe with Euskadi Basque Country-Murias after two years of successfully racing in Asia.
Aberasturi says there is no real comparison between himself and Valverde, but his hit rate this season has boosted his confidence levels.
"We can't compare Valverde and myself," Aberasturi told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 2 in the Tour of Hainan in Wanning. "He won eleven races although he rode only half of a season. He was winning everything [from the Vuelta a Murcia to Liège-Bastogne-Liège before crashing in the opening time trial of the Tour de France -ed], he was having his best year ever. I have eight wins. I also have 30 podiums, I'm the second Spaniard behind Alberto Contador who's got 32. At the end, those are just numbers, but they give me the confidence I didn't have before."
Is the Asia Tour the way for lost WorldTour riders to bounce back? While his Australian teammate Nathan Earle, formerly with Team Sky, has inked a deal with Giro d'Italia wild-card applicants Israel Cycling Academy, the ex-Euskaltel rider will race for Euskadi Basque Country-Murias with the hope of a Vuelta a España start for next year. The 28-year-old has won stages in the Tour of Thailand, the Tour of Japan, the Tour of Korea, the Tour of Qinghai Lake, the Tour of Taihu Lake and the Tour of Hainan.
Aberasturi's world collapsed when the Euskaltel team folded at the end of 2013. "I had dedicated my life to being a Euskaltel rider, having raced for two years in their amateur team Naturgas and three years in their continental team Orbea," he recalled. "I was on a two-year contract with the WorldTour team when we were told in the middle of 2013 that it would be hard for the team to continue. For the 35-year-olds in the team, it was regrettable, but for us who hoped to have a future on the team, it was terrible.
"I've considered quitting cycling," he continued. "I went to Mexico. I got an offer from the 7-Eleven team from the Philippines, but the conditions weren't good. I've trained without racing for a year and I eventually got an opportunity with Ukyo in Japan. Honestly, I didn't know who Ukyo Katayama was [a Japanese Formula 1 driver from 1992 to 1997 turned into cyclist and cycling team owner -ed]. I hope he'll manage to build the first Japanese Pro Continental team within two years as he wishes. He also runs a Formula GT300 car racing team. He can't come to all the races we do but he was our sports director at the Tour of Lombok [won by Earle in Indonesia]. He brings us his humility."
Aged 28, Aberasturi considers it's the right time for him to bounce back in Europe after two years on the Asia Tour. "The Murias project offers a new horizon," he explained. "With a good image and good results, we hope to get more support from Basque companies. The potential of great cyclists in our region remains big. However, my relationship with Landa [newly appointed director of rival squad Fundacion Euskadi -ed] will not change. We've known each other since racing for Naturgas. He's from Murguia, and I'm from Vitoria, 20km apart. We've trained together all of our life. We'll keep doing so and occasionally go for a dinner together."
From Asia, Aberasturi has seen that his friend's arrival at Movistar isn't a smooth one with a dispute with Nairo Quintana over leadership via the media. "It's up to [team manager Eusebio] Unzué to resolve the problem," he said. "Quintana has proven more than Landa up to date, but Landa can be at his level in the difficult stages. To be the leader, Quintana must fight for his status. Unzué should look at who shows the most and gives more guarantees for the Tour but both of them should have an opportunity, one at the Giro, the other one at the Tour."