Fabio Aru (Astana) will look to the Tour de France with increased optimism after a pugnacious display at the Critérium du Dauphiné brought him fifth place overall and valuable reassurance regarding the state of his form.
After placing a disappointed 13th overall on his Tour debut a year ago, Aru's 2017 season was planned around a tilt at the Giro d'Italia, but his schedule was hastily revised in April when a training crash forced him to forgo the corsa rosa.
Aru was diagnosed with prepatellar bursitis after the crash, which took place during a training camp at Sierra Nevada, and the Tour replaced the Giro on his schedule. The Dauphiné was Aru's first race since he abandoned Tirreno-Adriatico through illness in March.
"I came in with some doubts," Aru told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I didn't know where I was at because I didn't have any point of comparison. And I went away with some certainty, having found the answers I was looking for."
Throughout his career, Aru has tended to race sparingly ahead of his major objectives in the Grand Tours, and he seemed to be unfazed by an absence of almost three months from competitive action. He was helped, no doubt, by the fact that the Dauphiné's toughest stages arrived in the final three days.
Aru was aggressive on the Mont du Chat on stage 6, eventually placing fourth in the four-man sprint as his teammate Jakob Fuglsang took the honours. On the final day, Aru attacked on the Col de la Colombière in the company of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), a move which ultimately helped lay the groundwork for Fuglsang's second stage win and final overall victory. Aru took fifth on the final stage and finished in the same place on general classification.
"On Sunday, I attacked from distance because I wanted to force the others to work and blow things apart. Riding like that was the only way to test myself," said Aru who finished just behind Chris Froome (Sky) and only five seconds off Dan Martin's third place overall.
"I have no regrets about missing out on the podium by so little because I'd spent a lot of energy, on the climb but also in the valley. Third would have been better than fifth, but it's not the most important thing. I've come out of this Dauphiné with a lot of tranquility."
A year ago, Aru entered the Tour with hopes of a podium finish. After a subdued opening two weeks, he seemed to improve as the race reached its denouement, only to lose 13 minutes on the final mountain of the race, the Col de Joux Plane, and slip from 6th to 13th overall. This time around, he will enter the race as co-leader with Jakob Fuglsang, who has targeted the Tour since the beginning of the year, and enters the race on a high after claiming the first WorldTour wins of his career at the Dauphine.
The Sardinian is due to train at his regular base of Sestriere in the lead-up to this year's Tour, and he will have one further competitive outing at the Italian Championships in Ivrea, where he will be expected to shine on the hilly parcours.
"The sensations were good on some incredibly hard-fought days on the Dauphiné," Aru said. "There wasn't television coverage from the start but I can assure you that it was a harsh fight from the first kilometre on each of the last three days."
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