Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) admitted that he was not at the same level as his potential Giro d'Italia rivals when the Tour of the Alps began on Monday but day after day, attack after attack, he has been able to close the gap, indicating he will be a real contender at the Corsa Rosa in May.
Aru often races with his heart, ignoring his legs, as he searches for success. He appeared to use both during stage 4 to Lienz, perhaps first informing Chris Froome of his intentions to attack on the late Bannberg and then going deep on the six-kilometre climb and opening a gap on the overall contenders and his future Giro d'Italia rivals.
Aru danced on the pedals with his trademark leg swinging style, suffering on the steepest gradients, but his pace was constant as he cut his way through an earlier move and distanced the big names in the peloton.
Froome needed a huge effort from teammate Kenny Elissonde to get across to Aru, while Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) had to go deep to protect his race lead. Aru was brought to heel before the summit but also impressed by the way he managed to stay on as Froome and others attacked. He finished a tired fifth on the stage and is still fifth overall, 50 seconds down on Pinot.
"It's important to test yourself and your body. I wanted to show that I'm not at the Tour of the Alps just to be a bit-part player," he said with pride.
"I'm here to prepare for the Giro d'Italia like most people but I want to do something as well. I'm not as strong as the others but I'll still give it a go."
Aru lost 24 seconds on stage 1 and 34 seconds on the mountain finish to Alpe di Pampeago but since then he has finished on the same time as Pinot and Froome.
"I'm growing day after day," he said bluntly.
"Whenever I've done the Giro d'Italia this has been the perfect race to prepare in the best possible way. It's the same this year. I'm suffering but I'm up front and giving it everything. That's important."
Aru was quizzed about talking to Froome before his attack but avoided revealing exactly was said.
"Yeah, we talked. But it was because Pinot only had one teammate. That's it…" he said, staying coy on a possible alliance to take on the Frenchman.
Aru seems to be emulating Froome and studying him in his preparation for the Giro d'Italia. He followed Froome on the fast descent of the Bannberg and then closed down the Briton's attack on the valley road.
"I was often on Frome's wheel last year at the Tour de France, it's the right place to be, it's important to mark the most dangerous riders," he suggested.
Aru also tried his hand in the sprint as practice for the Giro d'Italia and the fight for time bonuses.
"I'll always try and give it a go in the sprints but I know I'm no Mario Cipollini," he concluded.
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