BASSANO DEL GRAPPA, Italy (VN) — Fabio Aru rode in support of Vincenzo Nibali last year, but now he is riding to the top of the Giro d’Italia.
“I’m not surprised,” the 23-year-old Sardinian said of his Giro performance. “I worked all winter to be in this position so that I could be here with the best.”
Behind race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Aru (Astana) appears to be the most explosive climber of this year’s race.
It seems that, behind Nibali, Italy has found its next big grand tour rider.
Americans following Joe Dombrowski’s 2012 Baby Giro success might remember that three-letter name: A-R-U. Dombrowski put 43 seconds into Aru – and nearly three minutes into the rest of the field – on the Gavia Pass to win the race.
Aru, though, counts two Giro della Val d’Aosta titles in his amateur palmarès. Along with the Tour de L’Avenir and the now defunct Baby Giro, it is one of the biggest stage races for developing riders. (Aru also finished second, behind Rory Sutherland, on Flagstaff Mountain at the 2012 USA Pro Challenge, his professional debut.)
Astana team manager, Giuseppe Martinelli spotted his talent and wanted him on his team immediately.
Nibali secured his Giro d’Italia victory on the snowy slopes of Tre Cime di Lavaredo last year, where Aru finished fifth on the stage, 44 seconds back. This year, the sky-blue team is riding for Nibali at the Tour de France, and for Aru at the Giro.
“He’s one of the few climbers around, a pure climber who can attack on the climbs and make the big differences on big climbs,” Martinelli said. “I’d say he’s one of the best climbers in the world. He showed what he’s able to do a couple of times already last year. You don’t finish fifth on Tre Cime di Lavaredo stage, after being sick for a week, without having a lot of talent.”
Aru blasted away from the Giro’s stars and answered the “Dopo Nibali?” question one week ago on Montecampione. He put then race leader, Rigoberto Urán, into the red, and won the stage. Today, he nearly did the same to the current race leader, riding in white jersey of best young rider. (Quintana does not wear the white jersey because he is already in pink.)
On Monte Grappa, Aru flew past Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), who started three minutes earlier, posting the only sub 1:06 time at that point. Everyone else went a full minute, or more, slower — everyone but Quintana. The Colombian slid just under Aru’s time, by 17 seconds.
Aru now sits third overall, 3:48 behind Quintana and just 41 seconds behind Urán.
“He is one of the rising stars from the class of 1990,” Quintana said. “Me, Aru, Michal Kwiatkowski, Peter Sagan, and more I’m probably forgetting, were born in that year. For sure, we are improving in grand tours.”
Astana’s trainer, Paolo Slongo, had to convince Aru to race this year’s Giro d’Italia. With only 13 race days coming into the Giro, Aru wanted to compete more before attempting to reach the podium at Italy’s three-week race.
Slongo pushed him ahead because he said that after they worked on his time trial position and training this winter, Aru was ready. The 5-foot-11, 132-pound Aru has about six-percent body fat.
Martinelli will no doubt be thinking of sending his newfound star on the attack on Saturday, when the race climbs its last mountain of 2014, Monte Zoncolan. Though he won’t likely surpass Quintana on GC, it’s possible Aru could win the last summit finish of the race, and also vault into second overall — just as Quintana did last July on the Semnoz climb.