"It's a tough, well-organised course, one that I like," Aru told reporters on Friday's pre-Tour de Pologne press conference. "At the same time, it represents an important stepping stone into the rest of the season."
It has also been over a year since Aru last won a race, when, clad in the Italian national champion’s jersey, he charged off the splintering lead group in the Tour de France for a stage victory in the Planche des Belles Filles. Aru then went on to lead the Tour in the second week for two days as Chris Froome (Team Sky) briefly faltered, with the Italian finally rolling into Paris in fifth.
Since then the Sardinia-born champion has switched teams from Astana to UAE Team Emirates, but his Giro d'Italia bid this May went disastrously wrong, and he had to abandon. Later, Aru told La Gazzetta dello Sport in May that he had spent far too long training at altitude, pushing himself deeper than his body wanted.
"My training demolished me and my body paid the price. I started the Giro tired and stressed out," Aru told the paper. He finally abandoned the Italian Grand Tour on stage 19, a day after he had finished 122nd and with a 26-minute time loss.
Although he reportedly briefly toyed of a return to France in July, Aru finally opted for a clean break and even as the Tour's peloton was rolling across the Pyrenees in the third week, he quietly returned to racing in the Tour de Wallonie, finishing a respectable but unremarkable tenth overall.
When it came to deciding to race the Tour de Pologne this year, it's surely hardly coincidental that prior to both of his top performances in the Vuelta a España, in 2014 and 2015, Aru had raced here in Poland as well, finishing 34th and fifth overall.
In the 2014 Vuelta a España, when he was still a long way from stardom, Aru blazed away to two solo mountain-top stage wins and briefly threatened to gatecrash the Contador-Froome duel that was in the process of deciding the GC battle. Then in 2015, Aru toppled longstanding Vuelta leader Tom Dumoulin at the eleventh hour in the sierras of Madrid to seize his lone Grand Tour victory to date.
First, though, there is the build-up for Aru to get through, first in southern Belgium and now in the south of Poland. "I thought I did very well in Wallonia, it was the ideal race to begin with," Aru told Cyclingnews. "I was also curious to see how I was going on climbs as hard as they have in that part of the world" - the Ardennes - "and there was a a very strong-line up, too.
"Here it's a longer stage race, it's one I like and I have ridden twice before, and it's a fundamental step towards the rest of the season, too."
Aru's motivation to return to Poland was, he agreed, boosted by the fact that he had subsequently done so well in the 2014 and 2015 Vueltas. "Doing a good race here is very important," Aru said. "I'm calm and very concentrated on doing well here.
"We added the Tour of Wallonie to increase my number of race days," - something that apparently had been an issue in May, when he later revealed he felt he had not raced enough - "but other than that it's been a very similar training program and build-up to other years."
Looking ahead to the 2018 Vuelta a España and what he thought his chances would be on this year's route, Aru said "It's good, very tough. I know a few of the climbs, like the Lagos de Covadonga, so it's a route I like a lot, and I'm very pleased to be able to take part."
Aru avoided naming a specific goal for his second Grand Tour of the 2018 season. "Objectives?" he said, firing back the question, "the objectives are to feel good and to go well. The rest all comes as a result of that." And the same goes for Aru, you might say, in the Tour de Pologne, too.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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