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Tour de France

Astana boss: Aru knows what he’s doing

Italian Fabio Aru is heading to France to race the Tour in two weeks, but the reigning Vuelta champ faces stiff competition.

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MILAN (VN) — Italian Fabio Aru has his ups and downs, but team Astana is not concerned because he always arrives ready for the grand tours. And that is the plan for this year’s Tour de France, starting in two weeks.

Aru attacked over a climb and rode solo downhill to win the Tournon stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné last Wednesday. On Saturday, the queen stage of the race, he slipped behind leader and eventual winner Chris Froome of Sky by 16 minutes after a failed attack.

“He may have done too much on the Col de la Madeleine and paid for it, but he will be OK,” Astana sport director Giuseppe Martinelli said. “He is working this week and in the next to arrive where he needs to be, alongside the others, in time for the Tour de France.

“He’s already done this before, making up time and arriving to races ready. He’s used to doing it. He knows what he is doing.”

Last year, Aru raced twice before the Giro d’Italia and placed second behind Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) in the Italian grand tour. Even during the race, insiders already predicted he was out of contention after he suffered through the first two weeks.

It was a similar story leading up to the Vuelta a España, which he won. The 134-pound Sardinian “wasn’t going great and wasn’t at his best” in his only lead-up race, the Tour of Poland.

The results speak for themselves. Only in his first grand tour did he finish out of the top five, 42nd in the 2013 Giro d’Italia when he helped teammate Vincenzo Nibali win. The following year he placed third. In the 2014 Vuelta, he placed fifth and won two stages.

“He’s been on the podium and won a grand tour now, so it works,” Martinelli explained of Aru’s irregular lead-ups to grand tours. “He does his own thing and he doesn’t worry about it. He does his training and it works.”

After the Dauphiné, Aru drove with Astana helpers and teammates over the French/Italian border to his training base in Sestriere. He was at the ski resort in northwest Italy for three weeks before the race and arrived this week for his final pre-Tour tune-up.

Astana planned for Nibali to race the Giro this year and Aru the Tour. Nibali won, and now it is Aru’s turn.

The task appears too much. He is debuting in the Tour with stars like Froome, Contador, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and he is unfamiliar with the French roads.

Despite his Vuelta win last year, he’s considered a B-rate contender alongside the aforementioned trio, plus American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Briton Geraint Thomas (Sky). Working in Aru’s favor, however is the fact that he has one of the best grand tour teams supporting him and confidence in his approach.

“He can already win the Tour. He’s always showed that he can overcome any problem and podium or win. That determination helps him,” Martinelli added.

“Maybe it would have been good for him to have done better before this point, but he is sure of what he’s doing for the Tour.”