Photographs of Fabio Aru (Astana) in the maglia rosa filled the front page of Saturday’s Gazzetta dello Sport, as they celebrated him becoming the first Italian to wear the Giro d’Italia leader’s jersey since Vincenzo Nibali won the race back in 2013, and the first Sardinian in the history of the race.
Aru was given the pink jersey in Jesolo after Alberto Contador crashed just before the three kilometre to go mark, before the point where he would have been given the same as the riders who were able to sprint to the line. It was a moment of good fortune for Aru after failing to take pink despite an aggressive ride in the first week.
The 24-year-old Sardinian now leads the Contador by 19 seconds and will have the benefit of starting last in the 59.4km time trial from Treviso to Valdobbiadene. With that, Aru has avoided the risk of being caught and humiliated by Contador in the time trial. Instead he will know all the time gaps to him and all the other overall contenders in the Giro d’Italia.
Aru has always refused to estimate how much time he will lose in the time trial. He travelled to Specialized’s wind tunnel in California during the winter, and has finally included specific time trial work in his training schedule, but remains a climber with no pedigree for racing against the clock.
Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quickstep) and Richie Porte (Team Sky) are arguably the favourites for victory in the time trial as they try to fight back after their crashes and misfortune. Aru’s teammate Dario Cataldo, Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) are perhaps outsiders but the most important battle will be the fight for pink between Aru and Contador.
How much will Aru lose to Contador?
In his daily column in Gazzetta dello Sport, Paolo Bettini suggested that Aru could lose just 30 seconds to Contador. The embattled Spaniard was hit by a chain ring in his left shin in the crash in Jesolo and has been forced to modify his time trial position by raising his aero bars to ease the pain in his previously dislocated shoulder. A change that his mechanic Faustino Munoz has estimated could cost him two seconds per kilometre.
Aru refused to reveal how much time he fears losing but appeared pessimistic, seemingly convinced that his spell in pink will end in Valdobbiadene. He could also pay for his huge efforts in the first half of the Giro, and the still mysterious problems that put him in the red on the stages to Imola and Vicenza. The weather could also factor in, with the cold temperatures and rain continuing into the weekend, which could make the descents more challenging.
"I don't know what’ll happen. I’ve never done such a long time trial,” he said after stage 12.
“It’s also an unusual time trial (for its hilly profile). We also ride it after 13 hard stages, in the heat and now in the cold. I think it'll all depend on what energy we have in our legs at the start. I'll give it everything but we'll only know what will happen after the stage.”
Aru and his experienced Astana directeur sportif Beppe Martinelli are still disappointed that race organisers RCS Sport included such a long time trial in the race, despite knowing that Aru was going to target the Giro and that he is not a time trial expert.
“I’d never expected a 60km time trial in the Giro, I expected a 45km time trial at the most,” Martinelli told journalists at the Giro with his usual air of gruff discontent.
“It’s 60km and okay we’ve got to deal with it and do our best. It could decide the Giro but I don’t actually think it will decide the Giro. There still the final week to come…”
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