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Fabio Aru's Tour de France withdrawal raises questions about future

FAYENCE FRANCE FEBRUARY 20 Arrival Fabio Aru of Italy and Team Qhubeka ASSOS during the 53rd Tour Des Alpes Maritimes Et Du Var Stage 2 a 1689km stage from Fayence to Fayence 357m letour0683 on February 20 2021 in Fayence France Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Fabio Aru of Qhubeka Assos during the 2021 Tour Des Alpes Maritimes Et Du Var (Image credit: Getty images Sport)

Fabio Aru has revealed that he asked to be removed from the Qhubeka Assos squad for the Tour de France after abandoning the road race at the Italian National Championships on Sunday. The Sardinian was replaced in the eight-man lineup by Carlos Barbero on Monday evening.

In an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, Aru admitted that he had struggled even to drive home to Lugano following the Italian championships in Imola, where he was distanced early from the peloton.

“I was as white as a sheet. I sat myself on a bench for an hour, drinking water and Coca-Cola,” Aru said. “Going home, I was even struggling to drive, and I stayed in bed all day on Monday. I’d never felt discomfort like that. So I told the team it wasn’t right to keep me in the eight for the Tour.”

After placing 26th overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Aru spent time at his regular training base of Sestriere before travelling to Imola for the national championships, which was to be his final test ahead of the Tour.

“I came down from Sestriere the day before and I had to do a long drive to the hotel at Gatteo a Mare. But I’ve always gone quite well in the heat and my sensations at the start of the race weren’t bad,” Aru said.

“Then when they started to accelerate, even if it hadn’t really started, I really felt the heat and I couldn’t breathe any more.”

Aru trained with neighbours Vincenzo Nibali and Diego Ulissi on Tuesday and confessed that he wondered afterwards if he had been hasty in withdrawing from the Tour. After abandoning the race on stage 9 last September, however, he was reluctant to start amid such uncertainty this time out.

“Now, with a bit more calm, I have a different opinion,” Aru said. “But you can’t make a decision like that at the last moment. What happened last year shook me up a lot.”

Aru won the Vuelta a España in 2015 and placed fifth overall at the Tour de France two years later, but he has struggled since leaving Astana for UAE Team Emirates ahead of the 2018 season.

He underwent surgery for an iliac artery problem in 2019 and placed 14th overall in that year’s Tour, but his final season at UAE Team Emirates was trying. He signed for Qhubeka Assos last winter and began his preparations for 2021 with a return to cyclo-cross, but he has failed to make an impression on the road this season.

“I’ve been struggling for years and not being able to be up there with the best really annoys me, because I’m not lazy. In fact, I’m doing everything I can,” said Aru.

Asked if there was any sense in continuing his career as a bike rider amid such travails, Aru said: “I understand that people have those kinds of questions, but I’m the one who decides. And I think there should be respect for the person I am and for what I do. Questions like that don’t do any good. 

"I’ve had more setbacks than joy in recent years, but I feel at ease with Qhubeka. And in 2021, I hadn’t abandoned in more than 30 race days.”