With the Tour de France now underway it’s that time we cycling fans begin to plot who will do what on the roads of France and one man that might just be a surprise waiting to explode is Astana’s Fabio Aru.
The 26-year-old hasn’t been around for long; in fact three years to be precise. But his arrival on the pro-peloton has caused quite a stir. Usually the neo-pros have to earn their stripes by racing a selection of races which lack the prestige and clamour of some of the other races on the calendar. But Aru hasn’t done that per-se.
But while Aru did compete at races such as the Giro della Valle d’Acosta and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, winning the former and finishing second on one of the toughest stages in the latter, it showed that the Sardinian has some serious talent.
Astana’s director sportif Guiseppe Martinelli said of Aru’s remarkable rise: “Fabio did two-almost three-years as amateur at a very high level. He came from a team where the directeur sportif was very demanding, and always wanted his riders on the attack; so it was clear that he was turning professional with a sackload of experience and physical strength.”
After that Aru was fast-tracked to Astana’s A-team where he became understudy to Vincenzo Nibali when he won his first Giro D'Italia in 2013 – but since then it could be argued that Aru has gone up another level while Nibali has stagnated a little bit – but that is an argument for another day.
Rift with Nibali is widely known, but Astana confident their two talents can co-exist at the Tour
Aru finished second at the Giro last year, and then won the Vuelta a Espana later in the same summer; that is no easy feat finishing on two podiums, in two Grand Tours.
And now he has been rewarded with not only his maiden Tour, but also the head honcho position at Astana this July; much to the annoyance of his compatriot and teammate Nibali.
There is no doubting there is a rift between the ‘shark’ and the young upstart, the wily campaigner has been given a reduced role at this year’s Tour; with the Rio Olympics in mind. But still, it’s not going down well with the four-time Grand Tour winner.
And to put further context into the equation, Nibali won the Giro earlier this year after a remarkable fight back; he was two minutes behind Esteban Chaves of Orica-BikeExchange with three stages left, and somehow the Italian turned it around – and still he has been given a free role.
It’s certainly a risk from Astana, putting their Tour bid in the hands of a rider who has never ridden the biggest of races.
Previous Italian heartbreak at the Tour might recede with the emergence of Aru
Experience is a huge factor of cycling you rarely see a rider perform well on his debut Tour, but Aru seems to be different.
It seems the boy saves his best performances for the Grand Tours. His six victories have come at the Giro and the Vuelta; three of them at Italy’s finest race, and then three in the heart of Spain – but whether he can replicate those stats in France is another matter entirely.
History suggests and shows that Italians don’t fare well at Le Tour. Paolo Savodelli, Gilberto Simoni, and Ivan Gotti all won the Giro more times than the famous Marco Pantani – but they couldn’t replicate that in the Tour.
And to further highlight the plight of Italian riders at the Tour, when Nibali cruised to victory in the 2014 edition of the Tour he became only the third Italian rider to win the Tour in half a century, and further more he was the first Italian rider to win the Maillot Jaune overall since the late Pantani in 1998.
Even great Italian riders like Gianni Bugno, Roberto Visentini, Guiseppe Saronni, and Francesco Moser who won the Giro also couldn’t hack the notoriety of the Tour, so omens suggest that Aru might have complications in France this July.
But if you take history and previous form out of the equation, on bike riding skills alone Aru certainly has enough to challenge the likes of Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana for the overall victory – but at this early stage it is safe to put Aru in the pack behind the front three.
Richie Porte and Tejay Van Garderen of BMC can also be classed as rank outsiders; but for Porte the first two stages have shown that if luck isn’t on your side during the La Grande Boucle it won’t be. The former Team Sky man is currently 1min50s off the leaders. And then for the French, their hopes lay on Thibaut Pinot the FDJ rider.
Aru's climbing quality could be key at Le Tour
A lot of things will have to go in Aru’s favour before he could even think about winning such a prestigious race, his form will have to be top-notch, and other factors might have to come into play, a retirement from one of the main GC contenders would do him a favour – but of course these are all hypothetical scenarios.
But one aspect that is tangible is if the Italian is in contact with the podium places come the high mountain stages he will certainly be one to look out for.
The 26-year-old has shown that he can climb tremendously well; you don’t get many ‘pure’ climbers these days, of course Quintana is as good as they get – but Aru could well give him a run for his money in years to come.
And, if you look at the Tour in comparison to the Giro or the Vuelta, in terms of mountain stages, the Giro is probably the hardest, and having the experience of winning the Maglia Rosa; the climbs shouldn’t faze Aru.
Everything will have to come together for Aru for him to win the Maillot Jaune; but if luck is on his side Aru could go a long way on the unforgiving roads of France.