Giro d’Italia: Aru and Astana to the fore on the road to La Spezia

Sardinian attacks on final climb

Fabio Aru (Astana) arrived at this Giro d’Italia with just 15 days of racing in his legs, largely preferring to steal himself away at a series of altitude training camps at Mount Teide and Sestriere. The Sardinian youngster also missed his final preparation event, the Giro del Trentino, through illness, but he has scarcely missed a beat since the gruppo left San Remo at the weekend.

On stage 4 to La Spezia, Aru’s Astana team took up the reins in the main peloton with over 50 kilometres remaining, setting a fierce tempo on the Passo del Termine that dramatically whittled down the bunch. Alberto Contador, in particular, was left rather isolated by their forcing, which had the twin effect of slashing the advantage of the day’s early break, which included the Spaniard’s Tinkoff-Saxo teammate Roman Kreuziger.

The consensus beforehand was that the Giro’s trek through the Cinque Terre would be selective, but few could have anticipated just how demanding the day would be, and on the final climb of Biassa, Aru himself decided to take matters in hand with a fierce acceleration.

Tellingly, both Contador and Richie Porte (Sky) were the only riders who could react to the vicious attack and they bridged across to the remnants of the early break, while others with designs on high overall finishes, including Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep), were caught flat-footed and conceded ground.

Aru finished the day in sixth place, alongside Contador and Porte in the small chasing group that came home 22 seconds down on stage winner Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin), and when he wheeled to a halt past the line, he was instantly mobbed by a swarm of reporters and television crews.

After taking a drink from his soigneur and coolly waiting for one of the live broadcast units to wait get the nod from their producer, Aru described his day, though he was at pains to downplay his own performance.

Indeed, as Aru spoke, one was at times reminded of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who famously answered all 29 of the questions he faced at Super Bowl media day with the refrain “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” In this instance, and seemingly regardless of the nature of the question he was asked, Aru responded with a variation of a stock response in praise of his Astana teammates.

“Congratulations to my team today, I think everybody saw that the ragazzi were excellent, they really did the maximum to help me, they did a great job and I have to thank them so much,” Aru said.

Aru expanded on that statement by name-checking his teammates in his second response. “Tiralongo, Rosa, Cataldo, Rosa, Kangert, Malacarne, they were all fantastic,” he said. “We looked to do what we could today but there are 17 stages to come and we have to stay alert.”

Aru reportedly lost more than four kilogrammes when he was struck by an intestinal virus on the eve of the Giro del Trentino, a sudden and surprising illness that had prompted speculation in the Italian press that Vincenzo Nibali himself might be pressed in to duty to salvage Astana’s Giro.

Two weeks on, Aru seemed a picture of health in the sunshine of the Riviera, though – predictably – he side-stepped a question on what he had learnt about his condition with another paean to his team. “I realised I had a great group around me,” Aru said simply.

Another reporter tried a different tack, asking whether the stage had proved to be more demanding than expected, but without success. “It was very hot out there today and it really wasn’t easy,” Aru said as he pedalled off. “But the team was fantastic.”

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