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Fabio Aru faces make-or-break season

Sardinian faces a triple threat in 2020 with ongoing health issues, an expiring contract, and a rival for team leadership.

These are testing times for Fabio Aru and UAE-Team Emirates with continued physical problems, an expiring contract, and the rise of teammate Tadej Pogacar.

The Sardinian winner of the 2015 Vuelta a España has had several below-average seasons. He returned from iliac artery surgery on his leg to finish 14th overall in this year’s Tour de France but then fell apart in the Vuelta. He’s still unable to ride for more than two hours at a time.

It is the continuation of his problematic run that further raises doubts about what is possible in 2020 at a time when the team has a new star on the horizon.

“I wish they would tell me that in the face,” Aru told La Gazzetta dello Sport when it was suggested that some believe he will not return to the level that allowed him to win the Vuelta or finish second in the 2015 Giro d’Italia.

“I would also like to know if they really know what happened to me or they talk just to talk. Of course, I’m coming from a long negative period, the first one to be unhappy is me.”

The Italian missed the 2019 Giro d’Italia so that he could have surgery on a constructed iliac artery in his left leg. It continued a dark period spanning a couple of years.

Aru missed the 2017 Giro d’Italia that began on his home island of Sardinia due to a crash in training. He suffered through the 2018 edition and abandoned on stage 19. After medical exams, he said that he is not gluten intolerant, but his body struggles to absorb pasta and carbohydrates. He returned this summer, raced the Tour but then quit the Vuelta midway due to tests showing muscle damage.

“Without a specific preparation, I finished 14th in the Tour. That’s a fact, not opinion. And in the Tour, you don’t finish like that by chance,” Aru continued.

“With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps too much was asked of my motor in the Vuelta. And anyway in Spain, I was deeply weakened by a virus. I am still paying the consequences. Even today, I can only do short rides, maximum two hours. Starting in January, I’ll resume at full capacity.”

The highlight for Aru in the last couple of years has been the stage win and the day in the yellow jersey at the 2017 Tour de France, riding with Astana. During his three-year contract with UAE-Team Emirates, which expires at the end of 2020, he has yet to score.

It would be understandable if some had started to lose faith in Aru, especially as younger riders like 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar begin to emerge. Pogacar won the overall of the Tour of California and in the Vuelta a España, took home three stage victories and placed third overall.

“[With the team] we’ve had our face to face meetings, it’s normal when things are not working,” said Aru.

“My family stuck beside me. Many people who said they were friends, on the other hand, have disappeared. I want to remember who stayed next to me, like Matxin [UAE Team Manager, Matxin Joxean Fernandez].

“As for Pogacar, he’s really very strong. Together we can have fun.”