VESOUL, France (VN) — Italian champion Fabio Aru won the Tour de France’s first summit finish stage Wednesday and jumped to third overall — putting him within reach of the yellow jersey and the overall win in a little more than two weeks.
Aru won the Planche des Belles Filles stage, one of only three summit finishes in this Tour. Chris Froome won here in 2012 and Vincenzo Nibali in 2014 en route to an overall title.
However, Aru’s Astana squad remains uncertain about overcoming the Sky juggernaut with Chris Froome at the helm.
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“This win was a masterpiece, to win on that climb was important,” team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews. “For the overall classification it doesn’t change much. We know that Sky is strong, Froome will be even stronger.
“I’m keeping my feet on the ground. I know the Tour and you shouldn’t get too excited when you win a stage like that, you’ve got to manage it day by day.”
Martinelli guided Marco Pantani to his 1998 Tour win and more recently, Vincenzo Nibali to his 2014 triumph. He remains wary of Sky, which counts four recent titles with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
“Much will depend on how Sky races. If they race for Froome, it’ll be a little easier for us to stay there and fight for a podium, but if they race for Froome and another rider — they have Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa — then it becomes hard for us to control.”
Based on the first climb, a fast and steep ascent to La Planche des Belles Filles, Astana’s second option in Jakob Fuglsang appears unable to challenge for the overall. He came to the Tour as an outside favorite after winning the Critérium du Dauphiné in June.
Aru, who already won the 2015 Vuelta a España, raised eyebrows with his performance Wednesday. Froome says he will not let the 27-year-old from Sardinia have so much leeway the next time.
Many questions were put on Aru’s form, given he cancelled his Giro d’Italia plans due to a training crash that led to a knee injury. However, he bounced back with a strong Dauphiné and an impressive solo win in the Italian championships.
“This is the best Fabio we’ve ever had. He’s in a good place,” Martinelli added.
“Fabio showed to have not only super legs, but the right mentality because of after the season that he’s had. It’s not easy to prepare specially and hard for the Giro and then change your program completely and be competitive in the next race.
“We have to live for the day, knowing we can have a great Tour, but not get our heads lost in the clouds. For sure, though, he’s on a high now.”
Martinelli said that after Sunday’s stage 9, followers will understand who may win the 2017 Tour de France. That day, the peloton will race over the Mont du Chat and down to Chambéry. Last time there in June, Aru attacked and helped Fuglsang win the Dauphiné stage.
If Aru is in a good place, he will need to push for not only the yellow jersey but a security buffer on Froome. The Tour’s penultimate day includes a 22.5-kilometer time trail in Marseille.
“The Tour is going to be very hard and it’ll be won on the climbs. The time trial won’t make a big difference in the classification,” he continued.
“In the final time trial, we usually see riders without much strength left. And 22 kilometers is not 30 or 35, you can manage it well. If we have one minute on Froome, we can play for this Tour win, but that’s still a far off place and we need to focus on the now.”