The Astana team leader started the Giro d'Italia aggressively but now seems to be on the back foot. He was unable to go on the attack and distance Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the hilly stages after his shoulder injury, and Contador has now attacked him on back to back stages and twice revealed weaknesses.
Aru crossed the line in 26th place on the Monte Berico hills overlooking Vicenza, after fighting to stay in contact as Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Contador surged to the line. He was among the wheels in the long line of riders but race officials ruled that there were gaps between the riders, meaning Aru was timed as finishing eight seconds behind Contador. The Spaniard also collected a six-second time bonus for second place, shunting Aru to 17 seconds back in the overall classification.
This Giro d'Italia is unlikely to be decided by a few seconds by the time the riders reach Milan on May 31, but Aru was forced on the defensive as he spoke in the mixed-zone close to the finish. He leads the best young rider’s white jersey and so has to endure almost the same podium protocol as Contador, with none of the psychological benefits of being race leader.
"I cracked in the finale after not eating enough," Aru said, trying to convince the pack of television cameras grouped around him under a tent near the finish area.
"There wasn't much time to eat and bring things around, so I was empty on the final climb to the finish. It was inevitable to lose something. But the Giro is still long and we're focused for the stages ahead. You never stop learning in cycling. A bad day due to not eating enough can happen. However there still all the decisive stages to go in this Giro."
Aru acknowledged Contador had struck a blow but promised to bounce back. He will hope for a quiet day on the flat stage to Jesolo on Friday and will have to be at his very best if he hopes to limit his losses in Saturday's 59.4km time trial between Treviso and Valdobbiadene.
"Everybody knows Contador. He's got experience and it works in his favour," Aru conceded. "I developed as a cyclo-cross rider and so I'm used to racing in cold and wet conditions like this. But if you make a mistake with your feeding strategy, you pay for it. That's what happened to me today. But a bad day can happen, the important thing is to fight back."
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