The Italian Grand Tour rider had been widely expected to quit Astana for UAE Team Emirates but always avoided talking about his future while racing in Astana colours.
On Tuesday, as attention was focused on the 2018 Tour de France presentation, UAE Team Emirates confirmed Aru’s three-year contract in a brief statement. The Italian champion will join fellow new signings Dan Martin and Alexander Kristoff on an overhauled UAE Team Emirates roster next season.
Astana had hoped to keep Aru due to an extension clause in his contract. Aru was apparently obliged to stay with Astana if the Kazakhstani team matched an offer from a rival team. There were also reports that he was under pressure to pay a get-out clause to end his time at Astana. It is unclear what happened behind the scenes but Aru has signed a three-year contract with UAE Team Emirates.
Vinokourov was in Paris for the Tour de France presentation and claimed he discovered that Aru would ride for UAE Team Emirates via media reports.
"He had another year of an optional contract with us. He never warned us of his desire to leave. He was asked regularly for his news but never answered,” Vinokourov said, according to L'Equipe.
“Today we learn via the press that he is leaving. It is very disappointing on his part. It puts us in a very difficult situation because at this time of year, it is impossible to find a replacement of his level, able to win the Tour de France."
Vinokourov once set a goal of winning at least one Grand Tour per season but budget cuts and the loss of Vincenzo Nibali to Bahrain-Merida have lowered the team’s expectations.
L’Equipe suggested that Astana were approached by Nairo Quintana’s agent during the Tour de France and later by Rigoberto Uran when it emerged that Cannondale-Drapac had lost a new sponsor. Both riders opted to stay with their current teams and Astana will start the 2018 season with Jakob Fuglsang and Miguel Angel Lopez as stage race leaders.
Fuglsang won the Criterium du Dauphine but crashed out of the Tour de France. Lopez was the revelation of the Vuelta a Espana, winning two mountain stages and finishing eighth overall. However, neither has ever won a Grand Tour, limiting Astana’s chances of success in 2018.