Three seconds is turning into an eternity for Fabio Aru (Astana). The Italian threw everything he had at Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) in Thursday’s stage 18, but the Vuelta a España race leader withstood the aggression, and even counter-attacked on his own.
With three stages left in the 2015 Vuelta, Aru is running out of asphalt.
“I tried a few times, and I will keep trying,” Aru said. “I have no other choice.”
Aru is desperate to erase the minimal difference to Dumoulin, but it won’t be easy. Friday’s transition stage to Avila provides no major obstacles, and the explosive finale along the Medieval walls at Avila might even favor Dumoulin to Aru if it comes down to a GC-group bunch sprint.
Saturday’s wild, four-climb stage across the mountains north of Madrid will provide Aru’s last chance to shake Dumoulin before Sunday’s parade lap and sprint in Madrid.
On Thursday, Aru’s Astana teammates set a blistering pace to try to isolate Dumoulin. Aru then attacked at least three times on the first-category climb, but Dumoulin was like a shadow hanging over Aru’s every move.
“The team was always at the front, and they did a great job. Everyone knows what we’re trying to do, and I know I can count on them in the remaining two stages,” Aru said. “We will try.”
Looking confident in the leader’s jersey, Dumoulin was in complete control despite Astana’s pressure and Aru’s attacks. He was able to respond to every surge, and even managed to make his own counter-attack in the closing kilometers.
“I never had any doubt that I could follow Aru and resist his attacks,” Dumoulin said. “After what we saw in Thursday’s stage, I know that I can follow Aru. I only have three seconds for three stages, one for each stage. The key is not to lose sight of Aru. I need to stay glued to his wheel and hold on to Madrid.”
Other teams also took advantage of Astana’s work on Thursday, with Movistar, Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) all trying to attack as well.
“Astana needs to race in a different manner if they want to isolate Dumoulin,” Rodríguez said. “The tactic [Thursday] didn’t work. They need to save all their strength for one big attack rather than just setting a very high tempo.”
Aru, meanwhile, will be haunted by missed opportunities in the mountains to further isolate the stubborn Dumoulin. Three seconds will be tough to swallow if he finishes second in Madrid in what would be his second runner-up grand tour result of 2015, after finishing second to Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) at the Giro d’Italia in May.