Fabio Aru lined up at the start of the Giro d’Italia in Belfast two weeks ago telling Cyclingnews that he didn’t know his limits but he came closer to arriving at an answer on the slopes of Montecampione on Sunday afternoon.
Two vicious accelerations from the Sardinian – the first with three kilometres remaining, the second some 700 metres later – saw him rip clear of Rigoberto Uran and Nairo Quintana to claim stage victory and move up to fourth place in the overall standings.
Aru began the Giro ostensibly behind Michele Scarponi in the hierarchy at Astana, but was promoted to the role of leader when the veteran crashed at Montecassino on stage 6. After a consistent opening two weeks, Aru took flight near the summit of Montecampione, painting himself into the general classification picture in one stroke.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport’s calculations on Monday morning, the 23-year-old tackled the 19.35km climb in 53:13, making for an average speed of 21.8kph, a VAM of 1,647 and an average power output of 360 watts.
However, Astana trainer Paolo Slongo – who joined the team from Cannondale this year – insisted that Aru still has ample margin for improvement. "At the moment he weighs 61.5kg and he’s 181cm tall. That’s thin but there’s still work to do because he can lose weight from his torso," Slongo told Gazzetta. "His body fat level is just above 6%."
Aru followed a strangely light racing programme in the early part of season, preferring instead to spend long periods training at altitude at Sestriere. He clocked just 13 race days before the Giro and admitted in Belfast that his prospects for the general classification were something of an unknown.
"One of the problems this spring was convincing him to come to Belfast with only 13 days of racing in his legs," Slongo said. "He wanted to race more, but before leaving for Ireland he did a lot of motor pacing work."
Another curiosity of Aru’s programme is that he continued to include a large amount of weight training in his regimen until just a month before the Giro began. "We worked on stretching and on circuits to build power in his legs, abs and back. It’s work that’s paying off now," Slongo said.
Aru enters the final week of the Giro 2:24 off the maglia rosa of Rigoberto Uran and just 34 seconds off a podium place. It remains to be seen what he can achieve in what is only his second outing in a grand tour, although he finished last year’s race – which he rode in support of winner Vincenzo Nibali – with a startlingly strong showing on Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
Slongo also believes that Aru can perform well in Friday’s 26.8km mountain time trial to Cima Grappa, pointing to how the youngster clocked the third best time on the opening, uphill section of the Barolo time trial on stage 12. "The omens are positive because he can do very well in the mountain time trial, his intermediate times from the climb in the Barolo time trial confirm it," he said.
On Sunday afternoon, however, Aru was keen to keep expectations in check. "I’m taking it day by day," he said. "I’m just trying to learn from the people around me