Fabio Aru will return to racing following a knee injury to lead Astana at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Aru was forced to miss the Giro d'Italia, his first major target of the season, after a training crash at the beginning of April.
Aru had been the intended leader for Astana at the Giro d'Italia, with the route due to start in his native Sardinia. Without him, the team looked to Michele Scarponi but went to the Giro with just eight riders after Scarponi was tragically killed when he was hit by a truck during a training ride.
Due to the crash, Aru has not raced since Tirreno-Adriatico at the start of March, a race that he failed to finish due to a bout of bronchitis. He made his debut at the Dauphiné last season, as preparation for his first bid at the Tour de France, and he endured a disappointing general classification fight but came away with a stage victory after an attack into Tournon saw him beat the chasing pack by just two seconds.
The lack of racing miles leaves Aru's form very much in question, but the team has Jakob Fuglsang to rely on. The Dane had been promised the Tour de France leadership this year, with the Dauphiné set to form an important part of his build-up. With Aru now likely to be heading to the Tour de France with him, a strong result at the Dauphiné will stamp his authority within the team.
The team brings just one of its Giro d'Italia riders, in Luis Leon Sanchez. The Spaniard rode an aggressive final week and finished second to Mikel Landa in the mountains classification, but was unable to come away with a stage win. Along with Michael Valgren, Sergei Chernetckii, and Alexey Lutsenko, the team has a good engine room behind its two leaders. The 25-year-olds Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev and Nikita Stalnov complete the line-up.
The Critérium du Dauphiné begins in Saint Etienne on Sunday June 4 and runs eight stages through to June 11.
Astana for the Critérium du Dauphiné: Fabio Aru, Sergei Chernetckii, Jakob Fuglsang, Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, Alexey Lutsenko, Luis Leon Sanchez, Michael Valgren and Nikita Stalnov.