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Fabio Aru, shown here at the Tour de Wallonie in...

Aru bullish at Vuelta after poor season start

The UAE Team Emirates rider is on a better track thanks to a new diet that's low on wheat and avoids dairy.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — It was a spring to forget for Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), but he is finding some satisfaction in his Vuelta a España return.

The Sardinian with the big smile returned to the Spanish grand tour, which he won in 2015, to find redemption after a horrible start to the 2018 season.

Three days in and ahead of the biggest Vuelta test yet, he said, “I’m quite satisfied with how my legs responded in the final, it was not easy to be brilliant, especially for the heat.”

Tuesday’s stage 4 sees the Vuelta a España field, including red jersey leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), climb into the Alfaguara Mountain Range north of Granada. The final climb travels 12.4 kilometers to Alfacar, a village that takes its name from the Arabic term al-Fajjar that means clay.

Aru will have a chance to reshape his season on the climb to Alfacar and in the weeks to come.

He was forced to skip the Tour de France after abandoning the Giro d’Italia “completely empty” in stage 19. The Italian champion began the Giro in May as a favorite but never could find the shape that took him to his 2010 Vuelta victory or allowed him to win a stage and wear the yellow jersey in the 2017 Tour.

Aru, who is paid around 2.5 million euros a year, has not won since the 2017 Tour de France. Alarm bells rang in May when he quit the Giro.

When the dust settled on the Giro, the 28-year-old underwent several exams.It turned out he was not quite gluten intolerant, but his body struggles to absorb pasta and carbohydrates well. He now limits their intake and avoids dairy products.

So far, the plan is going well. Aru returned to racing with a 10th overall in the Tour de Wallonie and a 10th in the Tour of Poland earlier in August.

In the Vuelta, Kwiatkowski leads the race by 14 seconds over stage 2 winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). On that first test to Caminito del Rey, Aru was just eight seconds behind Valverde.

“Some of the classification guys were just ahead of me,” Aru said that day. “Others were right beside me, and others were further back.”

Aru made early gains on Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), Miguel Angel López (Astana), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), and Richie Porte (BMC Racing).

The Emirates team has faith in its skinny climber with the big smile. General manager Giuseppe Saronni, a former Giro d’Italia winner and world champion, said the climb to Alfacar suits Aru’s characteristics well, with its tough middle section of 11 percent leading up to 1,440 meters above sea level. The team doctors explained that a person needs five to six days to adjust to the hot southern Spain weather. Saronni believes Aru is now ready.

“I do not know anything about [Tuesday’s] climb,” said race leader Kwiatkowski, “but it’s the heat that is now in this area of Spain you have to know how to manage your strength.”

“This is going to be the first test to check each other’s strength,” said 2016 Vuelta winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar). “It will be a good test for the general classification hopefuls.”

“I’m just going to evaluate the situation on the road,” Aru said of the day ahead, “and not do anything too aggressive.”