Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali have been happy to fly under the radar so far in the Tour de France, riding carefully to stay out of trouble in the opening sprint stages and limiting any time losses to their overall rivals.
Nibali lost 11 seconds along with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) on stage 2 after struggling to handle the sharp climb to the finish above Cherbourg, but the Astana management is confident it was due to his lack of climbing in races since he won the Giro d’Italia. Team coach Paolo Slongo is confident that both Nibali and designated team leader Fabio Aru will be in the select group that will fight for the stage victory in Le Lioran and possibly the leader’s yellow jersey.
Aru celebrated his 26th birthday during stage 2 and seems undaunted by the size and intensity of the Tour de France. He is eighth overall, in the front group of general classification contenders, 18 seconds down on Peter Sagan. The Sardinian rider spoke briefly to Cyclingnews and Gazzetta dello Sport after the stage finish in Limoges, sitting on the front steps of the Astana team bus without drawing the attention of the crowds at the finish. Fresh out of the shower, he carefully wrapped up to avoid the effects of a cool breeze that was in stark contrast to the hot and humid atmosphere in the team bus.
"We raced well as a team today. We stayed together and the guys protected me and Vincenzo. There was a lot of stress in the last 70km or so but that’s okay, its part of riding the Tour de France," Aru said, showing a growing familiarity with the biggest race in the sport.
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Aru confirmed that he has not studied the route of the opening mountain stage from Limoges to Le Lioran but he did not seem worried, predicting an aggressive but controlled race.
"Considering that stage 2 was pretty aggressive, I think that the first mountain stage will be similar," he said.
"All the big teams will want to be at the front. The stage profile seems pretty tough; the roads in the finale are pretty narrow with climbs and descents. I don’t know it but we’ll see what happens. We’ll be ready and will try not to lose any time to the other contenders."
Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France with an aggressive and vigilant performance. Speaking briefly after Aru, he suggested that the first mountain stage will be an important day in the saddle.
"Tomorrow's stage is important, as every stage of this first week is important," he argued. "I saw the map and the final part looks quite difficult. Let’s see how the race will develop."