Astana confirm Aru as team leader for Vuelta a Espana

Italian to be joined by Lopez, Sanchez and Bilbao

Fabio Aru will lead Astana at the Vuelta a Espana later this month, the team has announced. As well as the Italian, the team has named climbers Miguel Angel Lopez, Luis Leon Sanchez and Pello Bilbao, while the rest of the team will be confirmed in the coming days.

Aru's original season plan had him destined for the Giro d'Italia, with the Vuelta a Espana his secondary focus. But his calendar was thrown up in the air when he crashed in training in April. The knee injury he picked up forced him to skip the race, which started in his native Sardinia. Aru returned to racing at the Criterium du Dauphine, where he finished fifth overall, before winning the Italian national road race title, and then embarking on the Tour de France as joint leader with Jakob Fuglsang. It was a largely successful Tour for the Italian with a stage win in the opening week and a stint in the yellow jersey. However, illness hampered him in the final week, and he dropped down to fifth in the general classification.

It is two years since Aru has ridden the Vuelta a Espana after claiming the overall victory in 2015. He skipped the race last year to focus on the Tour de France and the Olympic Games.

The Vuelta a Espana will mark Lopez's first Grand Tour since crashing out of the race last season. The Colombian came down hard on stage 3 of the 2016 race, breaking three of his teeth. He was able to continue and plugged on for two further stages before climbing off on stage 6. A series of abandons rounded off his season before a training crash in November resulted in a broken tibia.

Lopez would miss almost all of the opening half of the season, only returning to racing action at the GP du Canton d'Argovie. Things appeared to be on the up for him as he set out to defend his Tour de Suisse title, but yet another crash saw him abandon the race with a broken thumb. He was back in action at the Tour of Austria in July, finishing third overall, and he will compete in the Vuelta a Burgos this week as part of his preparation for the Vuelta a Espana.

Both Bilbao and Sanchez have already ridden a Grand Tour this season. The pair were part of the eight-man Astana line-up that headed to the Giro d'Italia in May. The team was unable to take a stage victory, but Sanchez was the first over the Mortirolo, claiming the Cima Scarponi prize – dedicated to his teammate Michele Scarponi who was killed in a training accident following the Tour of the Alps.

Sanchez is currently riding the Tour de Pologne, while Bilbao will join Lopez at the Vuelta a Burgos this week.

The Vuelta a Espana begins with a team time trial in Nimes on August 19.

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