Fabio Aru (Astana) pulled on the Tour de France leader's jersey for the first time in his career after distancing Chris Froome (Team Sky) during stage 12 on the steep airstrip finish at Peyragudes, but he refused to be overwhelmed by emotions despite turning the race upside down and exposing Froome's sudden faltering.
Aru won the Vuelta a Espana in 2015 and has worn the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia, but the Tour de France is a whole lot bigger. Yet he has matured greatly in recent months after his knee injury and the tragic death of teammate Michele Scarponi. He is older and wiser. He is clearly more confident and assured about his ability and what he can achieve in this year's Tour de France.
"I looked back just after crossing the finish line and I saw on the big screen that Chris was further back. Doing a quick calculation, I realised I was in the yellow jersey, and then they told me and hauled me into the podium area. It was a fantastic feeling to know I'd taken yellow from Froome," Aru explained post-stage, with a clean yellow jersey over the top of his sky blue Astana jersey.
Aru spent the final kilometres of the stage tucked tight on Froome's wheel. He was happy to let Team Sky chase the break during the stage and seemed at ease as they used their strength in depth to tighten the screws on the group of overall contenders on the Porte des Balès and the Peyresourde.
Both Aru and Froome went off the road in the descent before the climb to the finish. There was no sign of aggression between them like last Sunday, however, and they quickly caught back up to the group of riders that had again sportingly eased up for them.
Aru only made his attack with 350 metres to go when he could see the finish banner at the summit of the steep runway.
"When Sky race they like that there's not much you can say. They're very strong and are able to used that on everyone else. You can only stick on their wheels when they do that," Aru explained.
"I was behind Sky on the descent and we took the corner a bit too fast. We were in a gear of 53x11 and so it was difficult to get going again. Fortunately the guys in our group stopped for us and I can only thank them for doing that.
"During the stage I honestly didn't see Froome in trouble. Perhaps he cracked at the very end, but I was not with him and so I didn't see him."
Celebrate first, defend tomorrow
Aru will now start Friday's 101km mountain stage to Foix in the yellow jersey. He is the first Italian to wear the race leader's jersey since Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour in 2014.
Astana will now have to defend the yellow jersey instead of attacking it, and it's already been a tough few days for the squad: Dario Cataldo abandoned the Tour after crashing on Wednesday, and Jakob Fuglsang broke two bones in the same incident.
Aru leads Froome by six seconds, with Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) third at 25 seconds after winning the stage. Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) is fourth at 55 after his second place on the stage. He was penalised 20 seconds for taking a drink in the final kilometres of the stage but remains a threat.
Before thinking about defending the yellow jersey, Aru insisted that he wanted to celebrate taking it.
"I want to first enjoy this moment with my teammates who worked so hard for me before thinking about tomorrow. This jersey is for them. Despite some crashes I know they'll give their all for me and help defend this jersey," Aru said.
"We'll start thinking about tomorrow's stage in the team meeting on the bus. After 214 kilometres of hard racing we deserve some rest first. Of course I know tomorrow won't be easy. A short 100-kilometre stage could be very dangerous. For sure it's going to be a hard day.
"I'm obviously very happy, but I'll stay the same Fabio who started the stage this morning. I'll be as happy and relaxed tomorrow as I was in the last few days."
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