Fabio Aru (Astana) may have dropped off the Tour de France podium to finish a disappointing fifth after a tough final week in the French Grand Tour, but all things considered, the 27-year-old Astana rider has plenty of reasons to be content with his July.
The winner of the 2015 Vuelta a España was slated to race the Giro d'Italia this May, but an injury sustained in April forced him to change his plans. He returned to competition just in time to finish fifth at the Critérium du Dauphiné and win the Italian national road championship, but his Grand Tour form was a big question mark heading into the Tour start in Düsseldorf. Although Aru says he and the team quietly had high hopes from the beginning, finishing with a stage victory and his first-ever Tour de France top five were at least some consolation for his tumble down the overall standings after he briefly wore yellow on stages 13 and 14.
"We'd expected a lot at the start. But if we consider that I injured my knee on April 2, things look differently," Aru told La Gazzetta dello Sport after the Tour finished in Paris. "I've ended this Tour de France knowing that I can be up there with the best. My improvement compared to last year is impressive. I'm only 45 seconds off a podium place. Of course I can only congratulate whoever is ahead of me. They deserved to be on the podium for sure."
Aru's 2016 Tour de France campaign also saw him fade at the last, dropping from sixth to 13th overall on the final mountain stage, but his late struggles this time around were much less pronounced. He lost a whopping 17 minutes on stage 20 in 2016, compared to only three minutes across several tough stages – including a time trial in which he was always expected to ship time to Froome – this year.
"If I look at my race, I think my glass is half full, rather than half empty," he told La Gazzetta, though he acknowledged that his brief stint in yellow left him wanting more. "I'm angry because I'd hoped to fight on an equal footing in the final week to see how things ended."
His seventh career Grand Tour appearance – and fifth top 10 finish – will, if anything, provide Aru and Astana with more data to build on as he looks to continue his development in the top echelon of Grand Tour contenders.
"We've got to carefully analyse what happened calmly," Aru said. "I'll be back at the Tour as soon as possible, to do even better."
Before he begins preparing for 2018, however, Aru has more racing ahead this season. Though he has no post-Tour criteriums planned, he will attend a kermesse in Kazakhstan in August, with Froome and Movistar's Nairo Quintana also set to ride. From there, he is expected to face Froome once more at the Vuelta, a race Aru won just two years ago.