Giro d'Italia: Aru rides to a standstill while Pozzovivo carries Italian hopes

Sardinian rider loses 19 minutes and any chance of high overall finish

As was the case for Roberto Visentini in 1987, the pink jersey had already been handed over by the time Fabio Aru rolled across the finish line in Sappada on stage 15 of the Giro d'Italia, more than 19 minutes behind stage winner Simon Yates.

Unlike Visentini, Aru's setback was hardly a surprise. His Giro hopes had been steadily deflating since he was dropped on Gran Sasso d'Italia a week ago, and the balloon burst altogether when he was unable to follow the pink jersey group on the Zoncolan on Saturday.

When Aru's pedalling slowed almost to the point of inertia on the slopes of the Passo Sant'Antonio on Sunday, with 34km still to race, the only question that remained was whether he would complete the race. A television motorbike hovered behind him on the rainy mountainside, where he could scarcely even stay on the wheel of his teammate Diego Ulissi, who had dropped back to help him. It wasn’t supposed to come to this.

Someway, somehow, Aru managed to persist and grind his way to the top of the climb, already minutes down from Yates and the leading group. The gap extended still further on the ascent to Costalissoio, where a glum-faced Aru waved away another motorbike that was filming him from in front.

When Visentini wheeled to a halt in Sappada 31 years ago, his first thought was to ride directly into the mass of reporters to give voice to the doomed rage written across his face at seeing his teammate Stephen Roche in his pink jersey. Aru, by contrast, ghosted through the finishing area without stopping for the waiting television crews, and climbed aboard his team bus without uttering a word.

The finish line in Sappada was in the shadow of the chocolate box façade of Hotel Corona Ferrea, where Carrera were housed in 1987, and where attempts were made to enact a silenzio stampa of sorts on the loquacious Roche by ushering him upstairs to his room and away from prying reporters.

It seemed a similar policy was in place at UAE Team Emirates. Like Aru, directeur sportif Mario Scirea preferred not to speak of the day’s events, explaining that his fellow directeur Joxean Fernandez Matxin was the team’s spokesman on this trying afternoon. Aru placed 69th on the stage, 19:31 down, is now 22nd overall, 25:14 behind Yates.

"It's a very difficult moment but in the end, we'll need to talk with the ragazzo. We've helped him and covered him, and we believe in Fabio, especially in difficult moments," said Matxin.

"We don't know what's happened yet. We need to talk with the rider above all, help him and above all listen to him. In difficult moments, we must support him from a sporting and personal point of view, and above all listen to him. Without listening to him we can't make an evaluation."

An hour or so later, a statement from Aru was released by UAE Team Emirates. The Italian champion himself seemed at a loss to explain his showing in this Giro, his first since 2015, and his first major objective since leaving Astana during the off-season.

Aru already seemed off the pace of the best when he placed sixth overall the Tour of the Alps last month, and he had shown few signs of real improvement through the opening part of the Giro. It remains to be seen if he will still be in the race when it resumes in Trento after Monday's rest day.

"Today was truly a hard one both mentally and physically. I want to thank my teammates for being at my side," Aru said. "I just find myself without strength, unable to hold the pace, empty. I am not good, clearly, and now we have to understand why. We are going to take a little bit of time to make our evaluation and the rest day tomorrow will help.

"I hope that you can understand this sporting drama because my big disappointment is made worse by my desire, and inability, to do well. I wanted this so much, more than anything."

Pozzovivo

While Aru's collapse will doubtless again dominate column inches in Italy on Monday morning, the fine Giro of his compatriot Domenico Pozzovivo has gone almost unheralded. The Bahrain-Merida rider placed fourth in Sappada to remain in third place overall as the Giro breaks for its third and final rest day.

At the start in Tolmezzo, Pozzovivo had smiled when it was put to him that Aru's struggles had meant that his exploits had flown under the radar to this point. "Yes, I noticed yesterday that my good performance made less of an impression than Aru's setback, but I don't put too much weight on that," Pozzovivo said. "It's always been my trademark to let the road speak for me."

On Sunday evening, Pozzovivo's teammate Vincenzo Nibali, who is continuing his preparations for the Tour de France, weighed in on the matter. "Watching the stage of the Giro today I think that not enough is being said about our own Domenico Pozzovivo. Keep going like this Mimmuzzo," Nibali wrote on Twitter.

Pozzovivo was unable to follow Yates' vicious attack on Costalissoio, but he finished alongside Tom Dumoulin, Thibaut Pinot, Richard Carapaz and Miguel Angel Lopez, 41 seconds behind the Briton, but almost a minute ahead of Chris Froome. In the overall standings, the Basilicata native is 2:28 behind Yates and just 17 seconds behind Dumoulin.

Although Pozzovivo is expected to concede ground in Tuesday's time trial, he will remain in the hunt for a podium berth through the final week of the race. With Aru now definitively out of the reckoning, Pozzovivo may even find himself the subject of the headlines.

 

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