Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) is ready to put a challenging 2019 season behind him and get 2020 underway at the Tour Colombia 2.1 next week. Speaking to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the Sardinian said that he feels so strong that the bike might break when he pedals.
Aru suffered through 2018 without having an answer to his poor form, though he was diagnosed with constriction of the iliac artery early last year. Surgery in April meant he missed the Giro d'Italia but he was back racing at the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France.
At the end-of-season Vuelta a España, he suffered from Cytomegalovirus, but made it to stage 13, taking two top-10 placings along the way, before withdrawing due to muscular injury. Now, with his ninth season as a pro about to kick off, he's full of optimism.
"I'm psyched," he told La Repubblica. "I feel like I'm breaking my bike when I pedal. I'm good, I worked well [training] in Val di Susa.
"Last year in particular I had serious physical problems, between the iliac artery operation and the virus at the end of the season. Now I just need to find a bit of luck. I have a lot of goals but I'm keeping them inside. Ambition is not lost, and my passion is intact."
Aru revealed that he has found joy on the bike again, calling a six-hour ride in solitude "my recipe for happiness". The 29-year-old added that his struggles have inspired him to get a tattoo.
"Cycling has never been a profession or a duty for me. I will get a tattoo with what it taught me: 'Don't give up until the end'. I've had hard times, but I found in the bike a 'justice' and the answers to move forward."
After Colombia, Aru's first half of the season is already laid out, with Tirreno-Adriatico, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour de Romandie on his schedule. After that, he will once again miss the Giro, having last raced there when he took second overall in 2015. Instead, the Tour de France will be his main season goal.
"The team has chosen this way and I have accepted," he said. "For the Giro I have one regret: I missed the start in Sardinia in 2017 due to injury [bursitis after an April crash while training in Spain]. I get chills when I think what it could have been like for me, a Sardinian who lives a distance from his land [in Lugano, Switzerland]."
With his injury troubles seemingly behind him, there's no reason to believe that Aru won't be right at the sharp end of races through the spring and at the Tour. If he is back to his best, then there could be another goal added to his programme: the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Aru finished sixth in Rio in 2016, and was Italy's best performer. For now, though, the 2020 road race isn't on his calendar. Aru said that making the squad will depend on his performances, adding that he'd look forward to riding for his former trade teammate Vincenzo Nibali.
"The Olympics are not on the programme – my participation will be a consequence of what I show," Aru said. "I'd like to be useful to the blue jersey and Vincenzo Nibali, the team captain."