Aru not ready to rest on his Giro d’Italia laurels

Martinelli on the Sardinian’s Vuelta a España chances

After placing third at the Giro d’Italia in May, Astana's Fabio Aru arrived at this Vuelta a España among the candidates for a place on the final podium in Santiago but, in public at least, the 23-year-old has been cautious in discussing his prospects.

Like Gianni Bugno before him, Aru has the habit of qualifying any predictions about his chances with a wary rider of “Vedremo” – “We’ll see.” Currently ensconced in 22nd place overall after conceding a smattering of seconds on stage 3, he is reluctant to make any grand statements about his aspirations.

“I always try to go well in every race that I line up in. I’ve prepared well but I’ve never done two Grand Tours in one year, so we’ll see,” Aru told Cyclingnews earlier in the week. “There are still almost three weeks to go. We’ll see.”

When pushed, Astana team manager Giuseppe Martinelli was rather more expansive when it came to his protégé’s possibilities in the race, preaching caution in one breath but allowing himself to wonder precisely how Aru will fare against Chris Froome and Alberto Contador in the next.

“I think he can do well. We certainly have an incredible list of competitors, almost – almost – stronger than at the Tour, with Froome, Contador, Purito, Talansky, but he’s motivated,” Martinelli told Cyclingnews in the port of Cadiz. “We’ll have to wait for the end of the first week to see how he’s really going because he hasn’t raced for a long time, apart from the Tour of Poland, but he’s confident.”

Indeed, behind closed doors, it seems that Aru is rather more bullish about his objectives for this race. The Sardinian took a short break after the Giro before cloistering himself for a month at altitude at Sestriere in the company of veteran teammate Paolo Tiralongo, a repeat of his build-up to the corsa rosa, when he arrived at the start with just 13 race days in his legs. He reportedly began the Vuelta half a kilogram lighter than the Giro.

“I said let’s wait for the first week and see how your legs are, but he said ‘no, no, no, I want to do well,’” Martinelli explained. “Obviously reaching a second peak of form in one year is always difficult but every time I speak with him, I find a very determined lad. He wants to prove that he’s a good rider and a guy who can aim very high in the future.”

The Vuelta already offered Aru a chance to line up against his victors at the Giro, Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran, but each crash at July’s Tour de France added another galactico to what has developed into a star-studded field. The presence of Froome and Contador, Martinelli said, was something of a stimulus for his young charge.

“I think that’s exactly what’s pushing him to want to do well here because it would be easy to be satisfied with what he’s done already,” he said. “The other night he told me ‘Listen, I don’t care that I finished third in the Giro, I want to do well here. There are a lot of good riders and I want to be up there with them to show what I’m really worth.’”

Coexisting with compatriot Vincenzo Nibali

Aru’s victory at Montecampione and third place finish at the Giro catapulted him into the limelight in his native Italy in early June, but his stable-mate Vincenzo Nibali’s triumph in the Tour de France a month later has had the added benefit of deflecting some of the pressure and attention away from the youngster.

Italian cycling, of course, has a long history of internecine rivalries, and there have already been murmurings in the local press that Aru and Nibali will struggle to coexist in the same team in the years to come. Martinelli managed the Saeco team torn between Damiano Cunego and Gilberto Simoni at the 2004 Giro, but dismisses the idea that there will be problems between Nibali and Aru.

“I don’t know the team’s plans for next year yet, it’s not decided, but even if Vincenzo and Aru find themselves together in the same race, it’s not going to be a problem,” said Martinelli, whose Saeco team did, after all, win that 2004 Giro. “I think that it might even be easier to win. I think they can live together, you just need to give the right weight to both of them.”

Martinelli confirmed, too, that he will remain at the helm with Astana next season, in spite of rumours linking him with a role as a directeur sportif at Sky, and he said that his “dream” of managing a big Italian team in the future – which he revealed in an interview with Tuttobici last month – remains just that.

“It’s a dream, only a dream in this period,” he said. “Of course, who wouldn’t want to see Vincenzo riding in an Italian team but in this moment I think that’s obviously very difficult. Besides, I’m with Astana and I’ve said several times that I want to stay here with Vincenzo and Aru.”

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