Aru’s arrival follows on that from Simon Clarke, Sean Bennett, Dimitri Claeys, Kilian Frankiny, Lukasz Wisniowski, Karel Vacek, Emil Vinjebo, Connor Brown and Harry Tanfield. European champion Giacomo Nizzolo, Max Walscheid, Domenico Pozzovivo, Andreas Stokbro, Michael Gogl, Dylan Sunderland, and Victor Campenaerts have all been given new deals until the end of 2022, while South Africans Jay Thomson, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, and Nic Dlamini will also stay with the team.
Aru will probably lead the team in Grand Tours along with Pozzovivo.
"I am absolutely delighted to be joining Team Qhubeka Assos next season and very grateful to Douglas Ryder who welcomed me to his team,"Aru said when the team confirmed the news.
"When the possibility to sign first came about, and then after speaking with Douglas and other team members, I immediately felt that this was an environment that I wanted to be a part of.
"In the last few years I haven’t experienced all of the success that I’d hoped for and so I will use this new step to draw from some of the simple factors that saw me achieve those results, as I know that I’m capable again of similar success."
Aru was out of contract at the end of the 2020 season after spending three disappointing years at UAE Team Emirates, with the 30-year-old failing to win a race during his time on the team. He abandoned the Tour de France in September and never raced for UAE again.
Aru endured a disappointing season in 2018, and within a year was diagnosed with a constriction of the iliac artery in his left leg. He underwent surgery and bounced back to finish inside the top 15 at the Tour de France in 2019. Despite finding a level of consistency, he was unable to truly compete in major races, while tension between him and the UAE hierarchy escalated after a number of low key-results and frustration with the fact that Aru was one of the highest-paid riders in the WorldTour.
Over the last few weeks and months, Aru has been linked to several teams, including the second-tier Vini Zabù-Brado-KTM and theit Italian rivals Bardiani-CSF. However, the 2015 Vuelta a España winner was keen to remain in the WorldTour as he looks to revive his career.
During September and October, as Aru looked for a new team, Qhubeka Assos manager Doug Ryder was simply trying to keep his squad afloat.
Title sponsor NTT announced in September that they would end their commitments with the team at the end of the campaign, and despite optimism within the team's management, the majority of the team's leaders signed for other teams. Michael Valgren, Ben O'Connor, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Louis Meintjes all departed for pastures new, leaving Ryder and head sports director Lars Michaelsen scrambling for riders once Assos committed to investing in the team to create a budget of around €8 million.
Aru lives in Lugano, in the Italian canton of Switzerland, close to Assos' headquarters in San Pietro di Stabio, and the brand appeared keen to make him one of their key signings over the winter.
"We hope to have him on the team. If it was up to me, I'd take him immediately," former Italian rider Daniele Nardello, now the Assos head in-house product tester, told La Gazzetta dello Sport .
At the same time, Michaelsen told Cyclingnews that he had been approached by 100 riders who were all still looking for a team. The Dane has worked tirelessly with Ryder to formulate a competitive roster.
The team has been busy in the transfer market just in the last few days, taking on Harry Tanfield from AG2R, Connor Brown from the team's NTT Continental squad and Emil Vinjebo from Riwal Securitas. Tanfield had a contract with a domestic team in the UK – Ribble Weldtite – agreed and signed, but a sponsor at Qhubeka Assos was keen to have a British presence on the team, so a call for Tanfield's services was quickly made.
Simon Clarke and Sean Bennett have both been signed from EF Pro Cycling, but Aru represents something entirely different, and will be the only former Grand Tour winner on the team. The squad does still have veteran Italian climber Domenico Pozzovivo within their ranks for next season, but if Aru can regain the form of old that saw him win stages in all three Grand Tours and finish second and third at the Giro d'Italia, then he could become one of Qhubeka Assos' most important signings.
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