Fabio Aru (Astana) has tended to spend long spells at altitude in the build-up to Grand Tours but, having placed fifth overall at the Tour de France last month, the Sardinian preferred to prepare for the upcoming Vuelta a España by training near his home in Lugano.
Aru won the overall title on his last appearance at the Vuelta in 2015, but that triumph came at the end of a steady build-up following his second place finish at that year's Giro d'Italia. This time around, Aru has faced a rather quicker four-week turnaround.
"I needed tranquillity," Aru told La Gazzetta dello Sport of his decision to eschew an altitude camp. "It's the first time in my career that I'll take on a programme that includes the Tour and the Vuelta. As a result, I'm also following a completely different build-up. After the Tour, you don't need to do a very big quantity of work, even if you still need to do a distance ride two or three times a week. Today, for example, I did a five-hour ride…"
Having begun the 2017 season targeting the Giro d'Italia, which began from Sardinia, Aru was forced to revise his plans when he sustained a knee injury in a training crash in early April. He recalibrated sufficiently to win the Italian national title in Ivrea, and then won a stage of the Tour and enjoy two days in yellow, though his coach Maurizio Mazzoleni pointed out that his preparation for the Giro had already been quite advanced.
"Fabio didn't ride the Giro because of injury but he had prepared to ride it. And for him, riding it means being competitive," Mazzoleni said.
Two years ago, Aru raced the Tour de Pologne as he prepared for the Vuelta, but this time around his lone racing appointment will be a criterium in Kazakhstan at the weekend, which will also feature Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). The first week after the Tour was spent off the bike, before he resumed training ahead of the Vuelta.
"A week of rest was necessary. I mean a rest from the bike but having been away from home for so long, I had a thousand things to do, like paying bills and going to the bank," Aru said. "I haven't put on weight, I was careful. I just need to be mindful to vary my diet a bit and not always eat the same thing, otherwise it irritates me."
Rivals for the Tour-Vuelta double
Aru, who complained of bronchitis in the final week of the Tour as he slipped to fifth overall, is one of a number of riders to tackle the Tour-Vuelta double this year. Froome is seeking to become only the third man to win the Tour and Vuelta in the same year (and the first since the calendar was overhauled in 1995).
Romain Bardet, third at the Tour, will also be on hand, as will Alberto Contador in his final race as a professional. Aru's former teammate Vincenzo Nibali has also targeted the Vuelta after placing third at the Giro d'Italia.
The Vuelta gets underway in Nimes on August 19, and the race's novel French start means that the peloton will face a stiff climbing assignment as it crosses back into Spain by way of Andorra. Stage 3 features two category 1 climbs, the Col de la Perche and the Coll de la Rabassa before the finish in Andorra.
"I know that it won't be at all easy," Aru said. "The Vuelta will be demanding from the start. There's already a big stage on the third day. But I know that I'll be able to count on a strong team."