Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) rode down from the snow-covered finish of Sarnano Sassotetto with just a fourth place on the stage after an aggressive performance at Tirreno-Adriatico, yet the local tifosi still called out his name after the Italian national champion helped light up the race and came close to a prestigious stage victory.
Aru had openly played down his ambitions after losing 24 seconds on the short-but-steep climb to Trevi on Thursday. But he raced with his heart on his sleeve in the final five kilometres, jumping across to Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) with Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy). He then managed hold the wheel of Mikel Landa, when the Movistar rider powered across despite going deep and grimacing in pain. He tried an attack close to the finish but had no reply when Landa accelerated to the line.
Aru was called to anti-doping post stage, but even that extra obligation and the cold temperatures at the 1,335 metre-high finish did not cool his personal satisfaction.
"These are the early races of the season, and the level at Tirreno-Adriatico is very, very high. It was a good stage for me. I feel better and better and I can feel my form is coming," he said with enthusiasm.
"This is the first really hard mountain stage of the season for me, and I'm still missing that racing sharpness. I tried to do something because I felt good. I believe it was a good day for me."
Thinking of the Giro d'Italia
Aru has confirmed he will target the Giro d'Italia this year while new UAE Team Emirates teammates Dan Martin and Alexander Kristoff lead at the Tour de France.
He started his season with his new team at the Abu Dhabi Tour. He will next ride Volta a Catalunya and then the Tour of the Alps before the Corsa Rosa begins on May 4 in Israel. After problems in 2017, when a knee injury forced him to miss the Giro d'Italia – which started in his birthplace of Sardinia, he is hoping for a more gradual build-up to his first major goal of the season.
"My goals are further down the road, later in the season, so it's impossible to be at my very best now," he pointed out.
"I'm happy with my performance, considering I'm not at 100 per cent. Lets hope I continue to improve and continue to fight for results as I continue to race. The Giro d'Italia is two months, but we're working for it calmly and methodically."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.