FOIX, France (VN) — France’s leading sports daily L’Equipe, which started the Tour de France in 1903, showed little love for the Italian race leader Fabio Aru. Instead of the Friday front page, it pushed him back to page eight.
You would have to flip through pages on French star Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Chris Froome and his team Sky tactics, and a full-page advertisement for insurance to find Astana’s Sardinian.
“I didn’t have time to look at the newspapers, but it’s quite the opposite, I realize I have quite a lot of fans along the road in France and I want to thank all the people who are passionate about cycling,” Aru said after putting on his second yellow jersey.
“Anyway, the other day my teammate Dmitriy Gruzdev said to me, ‘Did you realize how often people at the roadsides were shouting for ‘Aru?’ I said yes, I heard it and it’s a real pleasure to be encouraged so much in France.”
The newspaper understandably toed a nationalistic line on Bastille Day for Bardet, stage winner Thursday, headlined ‘Allez Bardet’. Even French journalists cringed somewhat as traditionally the newspaper does not print such biased headlines.
The big story centered on Sky’s strength and Froome’s fragility. Aru, it seems for now, does not get much attention in France or anywhere outside of Italy. The feeling is that Sky could come from behind with Froome, or perhaps with Landa, or that Bardet could become the first home winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
With a weakened team, Aru will try to prove them wrong. It began with a defensive ride in stage 13 to Foix. He had to do so, not only does he wear the yellow jersey, but he lacks helper Dario Cataldo and co-leader Jakob Fuglsang. Fuglsang abandoned Friday due to the pain from a fractured wrist and elbow resulting from a stage 11 crash.
“I was expecting attacks from all of the riders, and I followed all of those who were closest to me on GC,” Aru said. “There were so many attacks that it would have been easy to lose ground, maybe to have a hunger flat, at the end of the day I am happy with how it went after all these attacks.”
Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) launched early in the short stage. Sky’s Mikel Landa followed and threatened Aru’s lead. Aru relied on Bardet’s Ag2r team and then Louis Meintjes’s UAE Team Emirates to pull. Doing so, he finished with Froome and kept the three-time winner at six seconds adrift from his yellow jersey.
“It’s really hard to explain the effects of the yellow jersey. It’s a unique symbol in cycling. It means the first place on GC but from my point of view, very few things have changed since I got the yellow jersey.”
With the defense, Aru should carry the yellow jersey at least until Sunday. Stage 15 is a mixed-mountain stage. If he survives that, he could continue past the rest day to the Galibier stage. And from that famous Alpine pass, anything becomes possible.