The 2014 Tour de France revealed a bunch of talents under the label of "new generation". According to cyclists' and team managers' interviews, these new names would be highly dedicated and cleaner than the men of a few generations before. France's Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), third overall, or Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), sixth, are often names as parts of this new wave, like Fabio Aru (Astana) is praised in Italy since his third place at the Giro d'Italia and his stage win atop Plan de Montecampione.
However, the past is never completely dead as shows the post-Tour de France's headlines mentioning Marco Pantani, whether it was to introduce his Italian successor Vincenzo Nibali in the palmarès of the Tour or to expose the re-opening of police investigations and the suspicion he was murdered in 2004.
Aru, 24-years-old, obviously follows the news from the Tour de Pologne, where he is building up for the Vuelta a Espana.
"I hope that in Pantani's story, we will know the truth," he told Cyclingnews on Tuesday, in an interview in Kielce town.
The Sardinian climber didn't seem overwhelmed by the references to the past. "I started cycling in 2005 and I didn't follow Pantani's carreer."
He certainly bought several magazines and read about his sports' history but Aru is quite open towards this heavy past that media often expose to him.
"My favourite rider was Alberto Contador – and he is still so," he added, naming the Spaniard who took his first victory in the Tour when Aru was 17. "It's a bit strange to see him within the peloton now. I never fought against him on a grand tour. We don't talk much. I just say 'Ciao' to him sometimes and I take a look at him. I really analyze what he is doing, the way he races."
Asked about his personal interest to cycling history, Aru was quite forthcoming. "History is very important. Looking at history helps us to avoid doing mistakes."
Astana's talent also knows young riders like him are supposed to carry on new responsibilities in the eyes of fans and he personally believes "the new generation and the new cycling are different and cleaner."
This typical sentence of riders from the "new generation" shows they are free of the past and self-confident — they are "décomplexé" following the French expression.
"I see things changing," Aru noticed. "It was said Italians couldn't perform in grand tours but Nibali proved it to be wrong. Vincenzo is inspiring me and I also analyze the way he races. There's now a good generation for stages races in Italy. Before we were stronger in the classics. Now we are struggling a bit in this area. It means it's difficult for a generation to be efficient everywhere."
According to Aru, the fuel for the "new generation" is the 'grinta' — the fighting spirit. "If you have a strong desire of working, the hard work pays off soon or later," he says. "I see many riders who share this desire in Italy and can have high results in the future, not necessarily only in the grand tours, but also in the classics."
He names notably neo-professional Davide Formolo (Cannondale), 7th in the Tour de Suisse, and Bardiani-CSF riders Enrico Battaglin (stage winner on the Giro in 2013 and 2014) and Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (stage winner on the Tour of Slovenia this year).
"On the international stage they are Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and Michal Kwiatkowski," Aru added about rivals born in 1990 (like him) or in 1989. "I know them from the Giro della Valle d'Aosta [Aru was 59th on GC in 2009 when Pinot took victory, then fourth overall before and he captured victory in the 2011 and 2012 editions, Ed.]
"I saw these riders fighting in the Tour de France and doing good results. And it raised again my desire of working..."