For the second time in this year’s Vuelta a España, Fabio Aru (Astana) has claimed a mountain-top stage win - and proved that his third place in the Giro d’Italia this May was no one-off fluke result.
Fifth overall - and closing in on fourth - Aru’s stage 11 victory at San Miguel de Aralar last week has now been followed up with another prestigious mountain-top attack during stage 18 to Monte Castrove en Meis. For the young Italian to be able to out-power Chris Froome (Sky), too, speaks volumes about his talent and potential.
“It’s the first time I’ve done the Vuelta and the first time I’ve done two Grand Tours in the same year, so it makes sense for me to take things on the day-by-day,” Aru said. “But this victory feels really special all the same.”
Aru went clear about four kilometres from the summit with one of his trademark long acceleration, which Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has said reminds him of his own attacking style in the mountains. Contador either could not or would not follow this time and Froome did manage to bridge across. The Briton was gunning for overall time gains while Aru played the tactical situation perfectly, sitting on Froome’s back wheel and then darting past him for the win.
“My sports director told me that I was on the hardest part of the climb, and that’s why I went on the attack,” Aru - who exchanged a long series of high fives and hugs with Astana staff at the finish - said afterwards.
“Then when Froome came across, we worked to get to the finish together and it all played out in the last few metres.
“I wanted to stay in the top five overall as well, and we’ll see what happens between now and Sunday. But it’s already an honour to be racing against such top names.”
Aru says that his goal is to “leave a mark” on each race he does this year, and there can be no doubt he’s done that so far. His final goal for 2014, he revealed, will be to perform well in Italy’s last Classic of the season, Il Lombardia.
Come what may between now and the Race of the Falling Leaves, Aru's impact on the sport may well stretch further than 2014. In Spain, the search for a successor to Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez for stage racing has been fruitless so far. In Italy, with Aru clearly keen and able, so far, to follow in the wheeltracks of his team leader and Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, it appears to be another story altogether - and today's triumph confirmed that again.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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