For the second day running, Fabio Aru (Astana) ceded time on his rivals in the battle for the overall in the Vuelta and he is now holding onto the lead by the barest minimum of just one second from Joaquim Rodriguez. However, the Italian, fifth on the climb, was adamant that his form is not fading, rather that the ultra-steep finish favoured Rodriguez’ explosive climbing style.
However, Aru’s situation looks uncomfortably similar to that of teammate Vincenzo Nibali’s 2013 Vuelta, when Nibali took the lead in the second week, only to watch his advantage over American Chris Horner gradually evaporate in the third week as the Vuelta made its way through the mountains of northern Spain.
Two years ago, Nibali lost the lead in Asturias to Horner on the nearby Naranco climb - where, coincidentally enough, a certain Joaquim Rodriguez took the stage win - prior to losing the race for good at the Angliru the following day. This time, with neither Horner nor Nibali present, Aru has a one second advantage over Rodriguez as the Vuelta heads to its final summit finish on Monday in the same region at the Ermita del Alba - as it happens, just three kilometres away from the summit of the Angliru.
However, if the Italian is going to sink, he is clearly going to go down with all guns blazing. After trailing Rodriguez all the way up the last part of the climb without ever cracking, Aru visibly bristled when asked by an Italian journalist what he had been lacking on the Sotres climb, saying “I didn’t lack anything. It was a great stage for Purito, the final steep part suited him, I couldn’t help losing that time.”
“Today Joaquim did a great stage, and tomorrow’s very hard. We’ll have to see what happens both there and in the time trial [on Wednesday].”
Taking time on Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) was the upside of the stage for Aru, who now has a 1:25 cushion on the Dutchman, but the Italian refused to view the result as a good one. “It’s not a positive stage because I lost time on Rodriguez. I’m not pleased about that,” he said, before adding that, “Dumoulin is also very dangerous.”
However, Aru also lost three seconds to Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), second on the stage, also a good time triallist and who appears to be going from strength to strength in the third week. The Astana leader perhaps understandably therefore refused to single out any particular rival as the one that worried him the most. “I am concerned about all of them, not one in particular,” he concluded.