On an action-packed stage 9 (opens in new tab) of the Tour de France (opens in new tab), stories leapt from around the peloton, from the general classification contenders doing battle on the Col de Marie Blanque and Marc Hirschi's (Team Sunweb) magnificent solo break to Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) losing yellow and the 60km fight for the breakaway, and more.
Some of the stories are more sorrowful than others though, as we saw with Fabio Aru (opens in new tab) during the early kilometres of the day. As rider after rider attempted to jump away at the front, the Italian was out the back on his own after just 20 kilometres of racing.
Aru manfully soldiered on, waving away television motos as he was stalked by the voiture balai at the back of the race. On the second of five categorised climb of the day, the category 1 Col de la Hourcère, he climbed off, his race called to a premature halt.
The Italian lay 29th overall in the morning, far from his Vuelta a España-winning best, but with no hint of such a collapse on the road to Laruns. Three days ago he had been on the attack on Mont Aigoual, but on Sunday as UAE Team Emirates (opens in new tab) teammate Tadej Pogačar took the stage victory over an hour later, Aru could come up with no answers on what had befallen him.
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"I really don't know what is happening to me. I have no answers, and this makes me suffer," he said after the stage.
"I approached this Tour de France on my toes, and I had worked well. Not to go for GC, but to help Tadej in the best possible way and maybe, who knows, get some chances of my own if the opportunity arose.
"I had put in a series of encouraging performances in the run-up to this Tour de France, except the bad day I had in Lombardy."
Aru has suffered with an unknown ailment before. He endured a miserable 2018 season before being diagnosed in early 2019 with a constriction of the iliac artery (opens in new tab) in his left leg, later undergoing surgery.
A return to racing saw him take 14th at last year's Tour de France and Aru has looked competitive since the restart, recording top 10 finishes at the Vuelta a Burgos and Tour de l'Ain, and finishing fifth at the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge.
Indeed, Aru said that his recent training numbers should've seen him reach a level higher than he's achieved in recent years.
"My training data also showed optimism in returning to a condition that allowed me to perform well, certainly the best numbers in the last three years," the Italian said.
"Yesterday, talking to the team doctor, I told him that I was feeling better, and that I was confident for the rest of the race. Now I am here, stuck in a hole, without really understanding why."
Aru lamented his latest setback, on behalf of both himself and the team, adding that his future plans are still up in the air so soon after the gutting end to his race.
"I feel like I do not deserve this because I have always been an exemplary professional and given my maximum commitment," he said. "The team does not deserve this either and I suffer a lot in not being able to make my contribution as I would like to.
"My future? Well I'm not thinking about it right now. I'm still processing the disappointment of today."
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