History repeated itself on Saturday in the Vuelta a Espana as Fabio Aru claimed the race lead and what is, barring last-minute disaster on Sunday’s largely ceremonial stage into Madrid, the overall win in his first Grand Tour.
Curiously enough, Aru’s triumph took place just a few kilometres away from the summit finish where his fellow Italian and Astana teammate Vincenzo Nibali had done exactly the same back in the 2010 Vuelta.
Nibali’s victory in the Vuelta had come on the mist-enshrouded summit of the Bola del Mundo, where he fended off Ezequiel Mosquera to take his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, aged 25. Fast forward five years, and his team-mate and compatriot Aru, also aged 25, took the Vuelta a España in equally or perhaps even more impressive style, just 20 or so kilometres away in the same Sierras of Madrid.
Second in the Giro d’Italia this spring, and fifth in the Vuelta a España last year where he also took third in the GIro d’Italia behind Nibali, Aru’s final step up to the lead came in a Vuelta which could hardly have started worse for Astana. After two stages, Nibali was excluded for a motorbike tow and team-mate Paolo Tiralongo, a close friend of Aru’s, had to abandon after an appalling crash that the Italian veteran tried to overcome.
Aru’s rise to power, however, came through, albeit in wildly rollercoaster fashion. He took the lead in Andorra with a superb climbing display on the race’s toughest stage, dropping back on the mountains of northern Spain and losing the red jersey to Joaquim Rodriguez at the end of the second week - before bouncing back again in the Burgos time trial to remain within just three seconds of new leader Tom Dumoulin.
There was yet another dip in fortune in the first two days of the mountain finale, with a crash and a loss of three seconds to Dumoulin, before the biggest bounceback of all - on Saturday, as Dumoulin cracked in the face of an Astana onslaught. It was a remarkable turnaround, and one which gives the 25-year-old a huge boost to his career.
After donning the red jersey of race leader for the sixth time in the 2015 Vuelta and with an advantage of 1:17 overall, Aru responded to questions from the press below.
Cyclingnews: What did you do to keep your morale up after yesterday’s crash and setbacks?
Fabio Aru: I have thought at every moment of this race about giving it 100 percent, and I tried to give it 100 percent today. I wasn’t the only one in Astana. [Team-mate Alessandro] Vanotti, for example, had a bad crash, he could barely walk, but he insisted on staying with the squad to do his part. Tiralongo left the race with an injury that needed 35 stitches and he still didn’t want to go. So I have to thank my team, I was very focussed and motivated in this Vuelta and so were they.
CN: Were you sure that you would be able to beat Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin)?
FA: Tom has shown that he was a very strong rider, a very complete one and he’s done an exceptional Vuelta.. I have to congratulate him. Today was the ideal terrain to attack him, given it was the hardest of these last three stages and we went for it on the hardest climb, the Morcuera.
First [team-mates] Dario Cataldo and Diego Rosa went for it, Mikel Landa then did a great driving attack that worked very well. Mikel has been working hard for me, not just today but throughout the race. He was good. Finally when we came over the summit of the Morcuera, the difference was only 15 seconds at first and that’s not so big.
But I continued to give it everything, and I linked up with André Zeits and Luis Leon (Sanchez) who had been ahead of me. It went very well. Without my team-mates I wouldn’t have been able to get this victory.
CN: Before today, did you think of anybody who’d turned the tables on their rivals late on in the Vuelta before, like, say, Alberto Contador in 2012?
FA: We were very motivated despite yesterday’s (Friday’s) crash, it wasn’t simple at all. Then yesterday evening and this morning, my great friend Paolo Tiralongo encouraged me on to attack. Finally I haven’t forgotten that Alberto Contador is my idol and I haven’t forgotten that Alberto knows how to attack from a long way out, either, like we did today.
CN: Mikel Landa’s attack was very strong on the Morcuera and did you ask him to ease back a while, if so - why?
FA: When Dumoulin got back on after our first attack, we decided to slow down a little so we could try again at full tilt in the last two or three kilometres of the climb. We could tell he was tired.
CN: Did you expect to do such a good time trial in Burgos and did you realise you’d taken a big step forward to winning outright?
FA: The time trial was very important in this year’s Vuelta, I was going very well, I prepared myself well, I wasn’t ecstatic about the result, but I’ve certainly progressed compared to, say, how I was doing in the Giro d’Italia. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t need to improve my time trialling, because it’s a very important discipline in Grand Tours.
CN: Could Mikel Landa be a future contender in the Grand Tours?
FA: Mikel is not a great rider, he’s a very great rider. He could battle for Grand Tours for sure. It’s no secret I’d have liked him to stay in our team in 2016, but he’s sacrificed his chances for me here in the Vuelta and in the Giro d’Italia, and that’s not easy for a young rider either. He’s got two stages in the Giro, one in the Vuelta this eyar and he’s going to be a great stage racer in the future.
CN: When you talked to Tiralongo last night did he give you particular advice?
FA: You all know he’s my friend. I prefer my friends to be like Paolo, who is not somebody who just says ‘well done’, but who tells me the truth, too. He’s always taught me to keep my feet on the ground and keep my head down, to keep working despite the results because this sport doesn’t ever gift you anything.
CN: Is it true you’re not going to the Worlds?
FA: I’m not going. I talked to Davide [Cassani,Italian team trainer], but it’s not a race route that suits me. I’m happy to give up my place to somebody else who can do better there.
CN: Would you have attacked from such a long distance if you’d had Tom Dumoulin’s team and not the other way round?
FA: Today was a very demanding course, my team-mates worked hard to get in the break, and it wasn’t so easy, and the work they did was incredible.
CN: Will you be going for the Tour now?
FA: I still haven’t done the Tour, and I would like to do it. But first I will have to have a meeting with the team to decide next year’s objectives. Vincenzo [Nibali] is a great rider, he’s won Grand Tours, so in our team it’s not a question of being a leader or not being a leader. Vincenzo was in the team here, but he had to leave in the second stage. But if he had been in the race, we’d both have raced to get a top result because we’re both professionals.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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