Fabio Aru is making an accelerated return from major surgery and will start the Tour de France next week for his UAE Emirates team. The squad also brings Dan Martin and Alexander Kristoff, but Colombian sprinter ace Fernando Gaviria will not start.
Aru’s presence in the eight-rider roster is a bit of a surprise. The 28-year-old Italian was forced to miss the Giro d’Italia in May after constriction was discovered in his iliac artery which, doctors said, prevented “adequate blood supply at maximum effort.” After pulling out of Paris-Nice, Aru underwent angioplasty surgery in early April in his left leg when doctors inserted a stent to improve blood flow.
Aru, who won the 2015 Vuelta a España and held the yellow jersey midway through the 2017 Tour, returned to racing in June. Things went better than expected, however, and after finishing an encouraging 21st in the Tour de Suisse last week, officials tipped Aru for another Tour start.
“I will not be in France to worry about the general classification, the ‘grande boucle’ will be an exciting new chapter as I reboot my season,” Aru said Thursday. “I expect that my performance will improve step by step. I will fight to be competitive and to help the team’s overall objectives, and will aim for a stage win if the conditions are right.”
Aru’s return to the Tour will be an important test for the once-hyped Italian who lit up early grand tour starts capped by his 2015 Vuelta victory. After winning a stage and holding the yellow jersey for two days, Aru finished fifth overall in the 2017 Tour. Last year, he did not finish the Giro and struggled to 23rd at the Vuelta.
“After months of absence from racing, I was able to rediscover the spark of racing, feel fatigue in the legs and to really test my condition,” Aru said. “The feedback on my recovery is encouraging, I feel good which has led to my selection for the Tour de France.”
Without Gaviria, who is sidelined with a nagging knee injury, UAE-Emirates will have a heavier tilt toward hillier stage-wins and the GC than if the Colombian sprinter was at the line in Brussels next weekend. Last year, Gaviria became Colombia’s second rider to wear the yellow jersey and won two stages before abandoning.
Kristoff, who won the final stage in Paris last year, will see his chances in the sprints. Budding Belgian star Jasper Philipsen, 21, is also tipped to start his first grand tour, and will try to help Kristoff. Sven Erik Bystrom and Vegard Stake Laengen also earn slots, giving the team three Norwegians on its eight-rider roster.
Martin will captain the team’s GC hopes, with Sergio Henao and Rui Costa also having a free role to win stages. Martin has been in the top-3 in the past three editions of the Tour — ninth in 2016, sixth in 2017 and eighth in 2018 — will also try to win a stage.
“I feel good in training and the Dauphiné went really well, even if we didn’t see the same aggressive racing in the mountains that we normally do,” Martin said. “I’ve come out of the Dauphiné well and I like the look of the course this year, plus we have a super strong team with a lot of different options and cards to play.”
UAE Emirates for Tour de France:
Fabio Aru (28, ITA)
Sven Erik Bystrom (27, NOR)
Rui Costa (32, POR)
Sergio Henao (31, COL)
Alexander Kristoff (31, NOR)
Vegard Laengen (30, NOR)
Dan Martin (32, IRL)
Jasper Philipsen (21, BEL)