MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Fabio Aru, like Tuesday’s warm winds off the Arabian Sea, rolled quietly into the 2017 season in the Tour of Oman. He said there is no extra pressure on his shoulders as he builds toward the Giro d’Italia, which celebrates its 100th edition and starts on his home island of Sardinia in May.
Aru finished the first stage safely in the main pack. He is one of the favorites to win the Green Mountain summit finish Saturday and the overall, along with Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data), and Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors).
The six-day Omani tour and the Abu Dhabi Tour next week will launch Aru into the spring. This year, he is one of a large group of stars trying to win the Giro.
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“It’s just the Giro, with no extra significance, for me,” Aru said. “There are many important things this year, starting from Sardinia and celebrating the 100th Giro, but I’m just focused on a three-week race.”
Aru grew up in Villacidro, in Sardinia’s southwest. He began making airplane trips every weekend to race on the Italian mainland. Before turning professional, he moved to Bergamo in Italy’s north.
There used to be a Tour of Sardinia and the Giro began on the big island off Italy’s west coast in 2007. Aru, however, has yet to race professionally at home.
“This year it’s great that it starts from my land, I never raced near my fans like that, but the training is the same as before,” Aru said.
“If it is the Giro, the Tour, or the Vuelta, it doesn’t change anything for me. This is still the Giro. It doesn’t put extra pressure on me. If anything, it gives me extra confidence.”
Astana lost its star Vincenzo Nibali over the winter when he joined Bahrain – Merida. Aru, however, has quickly developed into a grand tour star. The shy 26-year-old already won the 2015 Vuelta a España and has two podium finishes at the Giro (2014, 2015).
Many viewed the 2016 season as a misfire. Astana went with Nibali to the Giro, which he won, and with Aru to the Tour. Aru suffered and collapsed completely on the Joux Plane stage.
Aru tweaked his training and racing program slightly for 2017. He just returned from a high-altitude camp in Spain’s Sierra Nevada for the Tour of Oman. The race marks a busier spring for Aru.
“You’re going to see Aru racing and winning more,” Astana team manager Giuseppe Martinelli said last year. “He’s been training on his bike since November 1, about 15 days ahead of last year.”
In 2015 — when Aru wore the pink jersey, won two mountain stages, and finished second to Alberto Contador in the Giro — he began his racing season in Paris-Nice in mid-March. For 2017, he will race the Tour of Oman, the Abu Dhabi Tour, and Strade Bianche before next month’s Tirreno-Adriatico.
“I started my seasons, apart from last year, relatively late,” Aru added. “Sometimes it’s been in Catalunya and sometimes in Paris-Nice against riders who may have already had two months in their legs. It was hard to score results.
“This year, I’ll have some extra racing and hope to have some good rhythm in my legs when I get to Tirreno-Adriatico with respect to the other years.
“It’ll be difficult for me in this race because I haven’t raced yet. I don’t know how I’ll stack up and at what point I am. I had a good winter, for sure, and I’m content with that.”
Nibali won the Tour of Oman ahead of Bardet in 2016 and then won the Giro d’Italia three months later. Will Aru repeat that feat?
“I don’t know about that!” Aru said. “This is my first race so we can’t make that comparison, but for sure, I’m curious after training all winter to see how I go this week.”