Vincenzo Nibali has praised Fabio Aru for taking the yellow jersey at the Tour de France but has joked that his former teammate will now have to take the Ticino-based group of Italian riders out for an expensive dinner.
Nibali is currently training in the Dolomites as he prepares for the Tour de Pologne and the Vuelta a Espana. Nibali won the Tour de France in 2014 and Aru is the first Italian to wear the leader's yellow jersey since the Sicilian.
For a while, the two were rivals within the Astana team but have become friends and training partners in recent months. Hence Nibali quickly warned Aru about the responsibilities of wearing yellow.
"We've got a chat we use to organise training rides when we're at home in Lugano. Now Fabio is in yellow, he will have to pay dinner for all of us. Gasparotto will choose the restaurant because he knows his stuff and it'll be important to drink well as well as eat well," Nibali joked.
"There’s still a long way to go in the Tour but Fabio was right to take advantage and take the yellow jersey when he could. His attacks hurt on steep climbs like that. He's in the form of his life and seems to have everything under control for now.
"I saw Fabio's potential even back in 2013 when he made his debut at the Giro and helped me win. He knew he was strong even if he didn't expect to show it so soon."
Aru's prodigious ability meant he became a rival for Nibali within Astana. They had separate race programme but clashed about team leadership. They only settled their differences when Nibali confirmed he was leaving for Bahrain-Merida and he helped Aru in last year's Tour de France.
They are similar in many ways but Nibali points out their differences.
"We're similar but also different. He's more of a climber, while I'm a passista. I've got more power but he's more agile. I'm heavier because I think he weighs 59km now, which makes a difference on the steep climbs. I'm a little better in time trials than he is.
"Fabio is like a sponge, never misses a trick and is very observant. He always asked me lots of questions about training, nutrition, and team leadership. He's stubborn, tough and very determined, even if he doesn't show it. He likes to set a goal and never relaxes until he achieves it."
Nibali is confident Aru has the form to win the Tour de France and that Astana has plenty of experience in the team car. However, Nibali points out that the apparent weakness of Astana team is Aru's biggest problem.
"Fabio is in good hands. Shefer makes some risky calls sometimes but Martinelli knows his stuff after all these years. His biggest problem is the loss of Cataldo and now Fuglsang.
"It's a blow because the team is vital at the Tour de France. It's the race the team plays the biggest role. It means you can control your rivals. If you don't have a strong team even riders at four minutes are a danger but you can't chase everybody.
"Fabio knows there's still a long way to go in the Tour and that's why he's not taking too many risks. However he's got to gain time on Froome before the Marseille time trial, so sooner later he's got to attack him again and again."
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