Having ended the Volta a Catalunya on a high note with an impressive late breakaway on stage 7 through Montjuic Park, Fabio Aru is aiming for some more top results when he makes his debut in the Vuelta al País Vasco next Monday.
The Astana rider was the first of the heavyweight contenders in the main peloton to try to put race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) under real pressure in the Montjuic circuit in Barcelona on Sunday, unfurling a long acceleration with 31 kilometres to go to which Quintana initially had no answer.
Collaborating with Louis Vervaecke (Lotto-Soudal) and French climber Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), the Italian star opened up a gap of some 35 seconds at one point before being reeled in.
Aru has said elsewhere that he has been working hard on improving his time trialling skills over the winter, but his charge out of the pack stood out - along with Chris Froome's searing acceleration a little later - as one of the most impressive climbing attacks on Quintana's command of the overall classification.
"I am doing a good race here," Aru told Cyclingnews on Saturday morning as he waited for the start of stage 6 of the Volta. "I'm getting better and better form, even if I'm lacking a little bit of top-end speed because I've had nearly a month away from racing" - his last race was the Volta ao Algarve, where he finished ninth - "but this race help me gain my top condition.
"The next race after this will be the Vuelta al País Vasco, a week away and I'm hoping to get a good result there."
Sixth last year at Catalunya is better than his 14th place this time round but Aru was building towards the Giro d'Italia, rather than the Tour de France, and his condition was correspondingly better. The 2015 Vuelta a España winner has ridden and completed the Volta a Catalunya every season since turning pro, in fact, back in 2013, when it was his first ever WorldTour stage race, finishing 70th.
Aru, like the rest of the contenders, concurred that the star-studded field in the 2016 Volta a Catalunya, "can only help me get an idea of where I'm at. It's great to have these kinds of reference points." Next up, in his first appearance at the Vuelta al País Vasco, the Italian will be hoping to be at a closer level to the two top racers in Catalunya, Nairo Quintana and second placed Alberto Contador.