Astana have named their Tour de France line-up, with new Italian national champion Fabio Aru and Critérium du Dauphiné winner Jakob Fuglsang sharing team leadership with backing from a solid squad that includes Dario Cataldo, Alexey Lutsenko, Dmitriy Gruzdev, Michael Valgren, Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, Andriy Grivko and Andrey Zeits.
There is no place for Miguel Ángel López, who returned from a broken tibia but then fractured his thumb at the Tour de Suisse.
Fuglsang did not ride the Danish national championships after becoming a father last week but showed his form at the Dauphiné by snatching overall victory from BMC's Richie Porte. Aru impressed with his aggression and light build at the Italian national championships on Sunday, dropping the likes of Diego Ulissi, Gianni Moscon and Rinaldo Nocentini and then gaining further time on the descent and flat road to the finish.
The Sardinian had planned to target the Giro d'Italia but a knee injury while training at altitude wrecked the first part of the season and forced him to reset his goals. His resurgence of form in recent weeks and a strong ride at the Critérium du Dauphiné means he will now share leadership for the Tour de France with long-time designated team leader Fuglsang.
"Jakob and I are like brothers in the race. The road will be decide who emerges as team leader," Aru told La Gazzetta dello Sport after his proudly pulling on the Italian national champion's tricolore jersey.
"It's a dream come true to win the Italian title. I was once second as an under-23 rider but now I've won it. I'm really proud to be able to wear at the Tour de France. I'll be showing off the Italian colours, the symbol of a nation. Not just at the Tour but all over the world for the next year. That's hugely satisfying."
Learning from life
Aru's career seemed on the rocks after a poor spring and his knee injury. He and the Astana team were also hit with the sudden death of Michele Scarponi, who was struck by a vehicle while training at home just before the Giro d'Italia.
Aru used his time out of the spotlight to overcome Scarponi's death and get his season back on track. He is now 26 and with Vincenzo Nibali entering the twilight of his career, Aru is due to fly the flag for Italy at this year's Tour de France and in Grand Tours in years to come.
After missing so much of the season, Aru is likely to ride the Vuelta a España following the Tour de France. He won the Spanish Grand Tour in 2015.
"I'm facing a hard month in France but I'm relaxed and confident," he said. "The last few months have been testing but life has also taught me how to get over the problems. I think I'm stronger than ever now and there's still a lot of racing to come this season. I've got time to do some good things."
Aru recently said: "Whoever believes in me needs to believe in me 100 per cent." It was a request for trust, support and funding.
"It means that I'm focused on every aspect of what I do," he explained when asked about the phrase. "I want whichever team I decide to race for accepts that. To be even more explicit, I want professionalism and innovation. We've got to ride together with focus."
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