Fabio Aru has said he is satisfied with his early season form after finishing sixth overall at the recent Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and is looking forward to taking on Alberto Contador at next week's Volta ao Algarve.
The Italian returned to the roads where he won the Vuelta a Espana for his season debut. He will now ride the Volta ao Algarve before targeting Paris-Nice in early March. The 25 year-old Sardinian plans to follow a traditional Grand Tour contender's race programme in 2016 as he builds-up for his debut at the Tour de France in July. He will not return to the Giro d'Italia but target the Ardennes Classics and ride the Criterium du Dauphiné in June.
Aru has been nicknamed 'the accountant' by Astana teammate Dario Cataldo, for the way he has started to count the calories in each of his meals and is obsessed about detail.
The day before racing in Spain, Aru heard the news that his mother had been injured in a car accident. Fortunately it wasn’t serious and he preferred to stay in the race. Aru lost a minute to Poels in the opening 16km time trial but then finished just two seconds down on stage two winner Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and was fourth behind Wout Poels (Team Sky) when the Dutchman won alone to set up overall victory on stage four.
"Last year I started racing at Paris-Nice but this year I've brought my season debut forward and turned in better shape compared to the past. I'm motivated for the season ahead," Aru told Gazzetta dello Sport after collecting a special award from the Lombardy Sports Journalists Association on his return to Italy.
"I'm pleased how my debut went and a little surprised by my results. My goals are later in the season and I've still got to hit top form. I was also happy to see that the team is also on form. The results of Luis Leon Sanchez and Diego Rosa - who finished second and seventh behind Poels, show that."
Aru is not concerned about facing Contador in Algarve, pointing out that he will also clash with Thibaut Pinot and former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, who will make his stage race debut with Team Sky after riding three of the Challenge Mallorca races. The Volta ao Algarve will be Contador's first race since last summer's Tour de France but he has been training hard in Tenerife in recent weeks.
"It's the start of the season but the level of fitness is already really high," Aru pointed out. "During the race we rode the climbs at a seed that was faster than during the Vuelta.
"I'm not surprised to see that Team Sky are riding well and winning races. Froome is a winner and a great champion. Sky's success isn't a surprise, even if they seem ahead of everybody with their training. Personally I prefer to focus on my own training and not worry about anyone else."