Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa have denied that there could be a leadership battle brewing within the Astana team and insisted they are still trying to take on Tinkoff-Saxo's Alberto Contador and win the Giro d’Italia.
Landa and Aru managed to isolate and then attacked Contador in the final part of the climb to Madonna di Campiglio on Sunday but with Aru struggling to hold the wheels after each of Landa’s attacks, the Basque rider opted not to distance his team leader and go mano a mano with Contador, only using his superiority to win the stage with a late surge to pass Yury Trofimov (Katusha).
Landa’s victory saved Astana from embarrassment but did not stop a flurry of questions, especially from the Spanish media, about Aru’s form for the rest of the Giro d’Italia. Landa appears to be stronger than Aru and so could have a legitimate claim to team leadership and a shot at the podium if Aru falters again.
Landa moved up from seventh to fourth overall, at 4:46 down on Contador after winning at Madonna di Campiglio. Aru is second at 2:35 and appears to be struggling but he tried to stay optimistic.
“Contador showed he’s in great shape but he’s beatable because today we beat him with Mikel,” Aru told Cyclingnews and two Italian television crews after the stage, spinning the stage result as best he could to hide his problems in the final two kilometres when the road kicked up.
"The Astana team have won another stage and that’s the important thing. I saw that Mikel was riding well, so it was right he tried something. I was being marked and so he won. There was no misunderstanding. The important thing was to drop Alberto and the Katusha rider after all the work that our teammates had done for us.”
Aru remains team leader for now
For now, Landa accepted and insisted that Aru remains the team leader at Astana and that they are still targeting the pink jersey.
“We’re racing for first place. Fabio hasn’t been like he was at the start of the Giro but were waiting for rest day to see how he feels and decide what we can do in the last week,” Landa said in his stage winner press conference when pushed by the Spanish media.
“Fabio is young and strong. We saw that he rarely has a bad day, we saw that last year. We’ve got four days of mountains if we’ve got the legs we’ve got to try some thing, it doesn’t matter on which stage. In the case that he (Aru) cracks in a big way, I’d be ready to step up but Fabio is Italian and we're in Italy so it's logical the things go this way.”
Cyclingnews spotted Landa and Aru talking about the stage behind the podium area but Landa insisted there are no problems between them.
“We talked about the race, we wanted to win with Fabio but I felt better,” Landa explained stone faced. “I simply played my cards and he wasn’t upset. Things are a bit hectic after the stage and I’m sure we’ll have time to talk again at dinner. We always talk about things.”
Landa won a stage at the 2014 Giro del Trentino but has improved significantly this season after becoming part of Aru’s Giro d’Italia squad. He won a stage at the Tour of the Basque Country and finishing second overall at this year’s Giro del Trentino.
He is only 25 and appears to have the potential to be much more than a domestique for Aru. His contract with Astana ends this year and so there are several reasons why he will be hoping to have the freedom to ride for himself and so try to finish on the final podium in Milan.
“Winning is a relief and takes the pressure off, I’ve reached an important goal. Now I just hope to stay this strong,” he explained.
“I feel great but to gain five minutes on Alberto you’d have to be a campionissimo,” he said. “I’ll never say it's impossible but it’s almost impossible. It’s easier to defend Aru’s position and see if he’s got the strength for the final week, he’s only 2:35 behind Contador.”
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