Fabio Aru has described his display at the Vuelta a España as proof of his professionalism as he reaches the end of his contract at Astana. The Italian champion is expected to leave for UAE-Team Emirates in 2018, though the transfer is yet to be confirmed.
Aru rode strongly on the Vuelta's first mountain stage in Andorra, but the residual fatigue from the Tour de France took a toll as the race drew on. He struggled in the second half of the Vuelta, eventually finishing 13th overall, more than 21 minutes behind winner Chris Froome (Sky).
"[I showed] my professionalism, to the team and to all the fans," Aru told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I don't like not finishing a job, I'm paid to do it. I was very happy with Astana's win the team classification, and without me, that would not have happened. I know that in the team it meant a lot.
"Doubling up with the Tour is really hard and stressful. I had done the Giro and the Vuelta in the same year before, I can say there's no comparison. That was easier, there's more time to rest."
Aru made headlines during the Vuelta when La Gazzetta dello Sport reported on tensions between the Italian champion and Astana, claiming that the team had neglected to provide Aru with a 36-tooth chainring to tackle the steep climb of Los Machucos on stage 17. Aru made no comment on the reports and launched a long, solo attack on the following day's stage to Santo Toribio de Liebana.
"I'd prefer to end my season by showing gratitude to the people who allowed me to turn professional and gave me a living," Aru said. "For my part, although I wasn't at 100 per cent because the Vuelta wasn't in my plans, I put in a big effort."
Aru's 2017 schedule had to be redrawn on the hoof when a training crash in early April forced him to miss the Giro d'Italia. The Tour de France was instead added to his programme, and Aru placed 5th overall after winning at La Planche des Belles Filles and enjoying a stint in yellow in the second week. Combining the Tour and the Vuelta, however, ultimately proved too much for the Sardinian.
"For me it was a complicated season. Beyond the amount of races days, which I think was 67, it was stressful," Aru said of his stop-start campaign.
"I wanted to honour this Vuelta. I was really tired when I finished it, and I remembered the words of [Vincenzo] Nibali during the Tour in 2016, when he said to me 'There are some days when I'm really dead'."
Aru had already shown signs of flagging in the second week of the Vuelta, but conceded the bulk of his losses in the final days, losing three minutes in the Logroño time trial and then a quarter of an hour on the Angliru on the penultimate day.
"It was important to get to Madrid also to see how my body reacted to doing two Grand Tours so close together," said Aru, whose season is not yet at an end.
"I'll do the end of season Classics, the Giro dell'Emilia, the Tre Valli Varesine, Milano-Torino and Il Lombardia. Then I'll have a good period of rest. I need to have a clear head to start again in 2018."