Aru fell heavily during the TTT and ended the stage 1:07 down on the rest of the field. But on stage 2, when he moved into the winning break of the day, it was a very different story.
Fifth on the stage, Aru has regained 114 places on the GC and is now lying 14th overall. More importantly, perhaps, is that the boost to his morale will have been considerable.
Stage 2 of the Vuelta a España was already a day where Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) had bounced back after his stage 1 crash and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) re-emerged in the GC battle after an uneven past two seasons. But for Aru, following a series of injuries and operations, performing so well was arguably his best show of strength since his stage win and spell in yellow in the 2017 Tour de France.
"Today was a good day, particularly after what happened on Saturday," Aru told Cyclingnews as he warmed down outside the UAE Team Emirates bus, sporting a huge bandage on his left leg.
"Today was important to get through, and in fact it went a bit better than I thought it could. So I'm happy about that. I had expected some big moves here because this was a climb we went up in 2015," - when Aru won the Vuelta outright - "and I had managed to gain some time there back then."
"For my morale this was good. I still need some time to get over the injuries and then we'll see what I can do in the upcoming stages."
Stage 5 to Javalambre, he agreed, was the first big day in the mountains.
"When things have been difficult, that's when peoples' real character comes out, and he's been unlucky, and now he's keen to show what he can do," UAE director Joxean Fernandez ‘Matxin' added.
The winning break formed at the top of the Puig Llorenca with UAE's Tadej Pogacar opening up the hostilities, and then Aru getting across with [Nairo] Quintana (Movistar) and [Primoz] Roglic (Jumbo-Visma).
As for his leg injury, Matxin said with a grin, "it hurts him, but only in the hotel. When he's on the bike, there's no pain. Times like that, you just have to think about how much others are suffering."
As for conclusions from the electrifying finale, Matxin argued that "we've seen a climbing stage on a day for non-climbers, when a short ascent, just two kilometers long, has turned this race inside out."
Rather than who will win the Vuelta, the UAE Team Emirates director argued, "we've seen who's not going to win it."
"Take 3,400 meters of vertical climbing, plus 30-degree heat, and 200 kilometers in September. Put them all together and that's what you get."
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