Fabio Aru was the centre of attention during the Astana press conference in the team’s hotel overlooking the Porto di San Lorenzo near San Remo on Thursday afternoon after revealing he had extended his contract with the Astana team until the end of 2017, despite the licence problems with the UCI.
Aru secured his role as team captain for the Giro d’Italia by winning a stage and finishing third overall in 2014. This year he is expected to take on Alberto Contador, Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran and fight for the maglia rosa. With Vincenzo Nibali focused on the Tour de France, Aru is the only Italian rider with a chance of overall success and so Italy expects him to save national pride and fill Nibali’s shoes in the Giro d’Italia and when the Sicilian eventually retires.
Cyclingnews understands Aru has a series of clauses in his contract that will see his salary grow significantly based on his results and an eventual victory at the Giro d’Italia. The deal also secures his group of teammates and staff, including Paolo Tiralongo and Diego Rosa. Aru opted to build his own team within the Astana team rather than consider other offers. He is apparently not concerned about Astana’s licence problems with the UCI.
“The Astana team allowed me turn professional two and half years ago. They’ve always believed in me and my group, and we’ve created a strong group. I’m happy here, so I’m happy to stay with Astana,” Aru said.
“We’ve got our licence. I preferred to focus on my training and keep working hard, like everyone in the team is doing. That’s what we’re paid to do. We’re going to stay focused on cycling.”
Back on form after illness
Aru has not raced since the Volta a Catalunya in late March but revealed he clocked up a thousand kilometres during a recent weeklong stay at altitude in Sestriere.
“I’d hoped to ride the Giro del Trentino to test my form but my stomach virus stopped that. Illness is part of our sport. I’ve worked hard though during my spell at altitude, we did an intense week of training. We’re motivated even if there are some serious rivals at the Giro. Alberto is motivated to do well, Uran will be a hard man to beat with the long time trial and there’s Richie Porte too. But we’re ready. My team is strong, I saw that watching them from the sofa as they raced in Trentino.”
The Astana riders trained on their time trial bikes on Thursday morning, getting a first taste of the team time trial route along the former coastal railway line to San Remo. Aru predicted that Etixx-QuickStep will win the opening stage and but is keen that Astana limits any time losses.
“There are a few slight curves and the surface dips and rolls a little but it’s a pretty straightforward, fast course,” he said during the press conference. “We’ll look at it again on Saturday morning to get a better idea. We’re not time trial experts but I’m confident we can do pretty well.”
Aru has been working on his time trial technique to help reduce his expected losses in the long time trial stage of the Giro d’Italia. He is also wary of the opening stages of the Giro d’Italia in Liguria and went to see the roads on Wednesday during training.
“I think it’s a pretty hard Giro right from the start with the third stage especially tough. It could cause some problems. Straight after we’ve also got the first mountain finish at Abetone,” he explained.
“The Valdobbiadene time trial will then be a crucial point in this year’s Giro before we head into the mountains and tackle the Mortirolo and then the Colle delle Finestre. It’s almost 60km long,” Aru warned. “I worked a lot on my TT bike in last few months. I’m hoping my performance will be a surprise we’ll have to wait to see if I’ve improved and by how much.”
“Vincenzo [Nibali] gave me some advice when we trained together on Teide. He warned me to stay focused for all 21 stages. He’s right. It’s a Giro full of possible problems even on the easiest stages. But I’m confident and optimistic I can do well.”