Fabio Aru (Astana) lost exactly a minute to Chris Froome (Team Sky) and the other overall contenders in the Tour de France during stage 9, but considering the apocalyptic conditions the riders faced in the final kilometres, with heavy rain and hailstone, the young Italian was content to have limited his losses on the climb to Andorra Arcalis.
Aru finished 27th on the stage, one place behind teammate Vincenzo Nibali. Despite losing contact with the Froome group, he managed to fight to finish with Nibali, reducing the time loss to riders such as Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).
Aru is now 13th overall, 1:23 down on Froome but within reach of a top 10 place.
There has been much debate, especially in Italy, about Aru's relationship with Nibali and if they would ride together and for each other at this Tour de France. Nibali is set to join the new Bahrain-Merida team in 2017 and was openly critical of Aru in the spring before going on to win the Giro d'Italia.
However, after trying but failing to win the stage to Lac de Payolle, Nibali stayed alongside Aru and helped him in the final kilometres of the climb to Arcalis as the road switched back and forth and the rain poured down. Astana sent Diego Rosa into the break of the day, perhaps to have him with Aru if a strong group of overall contenders formed mid-stage. Rosa tried several attacks on the steep Col de Beixalis but he could only finish ninth, 2:52 behind stage winner Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).
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Nibali did not stop to search out praise at the finish as the rain poured down, preferring to ride straight to an Astana team car to get changed. Aru struggled to talk after reaching the finish due to the cold and rain but found the energy to thank Nibali.
"The last climb was tough and I suffered a lot. Fortunately I had Vincenzo alongside me and he gave me some precious help. I've got to thank him and all the team today because they were all there for me," he said before taking shelter in an Astana team car to pull on some warm and dry clothes.
"Unfortunately it wasn't a great day for me in the finale of the stage. In the last six kilometres, I didn't have the speed and rhythm to stay up front with Froome and the strongest riders. I can only thank Vincenzo who help me chase and limit my losses. Without him it would have been much worse."
Aru vowed to continue to ride for the overall classification at the Tour, hoping to recover from his efforts during Monday's rest day and on the flat stages across the south of France to the Alps.
"That's cycling, you have good and bad days. I can only carry on fighting and I will do," he said.
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