The Sardinian endured a difficult 2016 season. He built his race programme around the Tour de France but struggled to be competitive and then cracked on the final mountain stage to Morzine, finishing 13th overall, 19:20 behind winner Chris Froome (Team Sky). Aru finished second in the 2015 Giro d'Italia and won the Vuelta a Espana but raced for just 66 days this season, with his only a success a stage at the Criterium du Dauphine.
With Nibali now a rival at the new Bahrain-Merida team, the Astana team management are expecting Aru to step up in 2017 and fill Nibali's shoes. Aru will join up with his Astana teammates in late November for their usual first get together in Montecatini Terme, Tuscany. This week, the team's management will travel to Kazakhstan for a key meeting with manager Alexander Vinokourov to plan the team's 2017 season.
"I can guarantee that Fabio will race more next season. He could debut at the Vuelta Valenciana (February 1-5) and then target the Abu Dhabi Tour (Feb 23-26) and Tirreno-Adriatico (March 8-14). To avoid any confusion, I think I can say that it's unimaginable that he doesn't ride the Giro. And it's more likely that he'll ride the Giro-Vuelta double than the Giro and the Tour," senior directeur sportif Beppe Martinelli told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Nibali will be missed
Martinelli admitted that Astana will miss Nibali for his leadership and results but is convinced that Aru can step up and fill his role of team leader.
"We'll miss the results that Vincenzo consistently secured, especially early in the season, but I don't think the extra pressure will be a problem for Fabio," Martinelli insisted.
"Fabio has already learned a lot from Vincenzo. He's now learned how to manage the tactics of a long stage race; even if they have very different characters and so are their ways of racing. Vincenzo races on instinct and experience. Fabio is more calculating. If he doesn't feel at his best, he won't move. If someone else attacks, he tends to wait."
The loss of Nibali has forced the Astana team to look for other new leaders in its 2017 roster. Michele Scarponi opted to stay for another season instead of joining Bahrain-Merida, while Jakob Fuglsang, Tanel Kangert, Miguel Angel Lopez and Alexey Lutsenko are expected to step up after their success in 2016. Lopez won the Tour de Suisse, while Kangert won the recent Abu Dhabi Tour. New signings include Moreno Moser, Jesper Hansen, Matti Breschel, Oscar Gatto, Pello Bilbao and Michael Valgren.
"Were going to have to re-evaluate certain riders and their roles," Martinelli explained.
"In the last few years Fuglsang has been used as a domestique but in races like Paris-Nice and the Tour of the Basque Country, he'll be our team leader. Tanel is another rider who can bring in the results and I want to see what Moser can do. I think he can give a lot more than he has so far, while Valgren can do well throughout the season. We’re not worried, we’re convinced we’ll have a super team around Fabio for 2017."