How do you feel about Fabio Aru?

Photo by: Ciclismo Italia

Last week a reader wrote to me wondering why he couldn’t warm to Fabio Aru. It’s a common feeling. For this reader at least, his cycling played a part.

“Aru looks like a spasticated muppet on a bike, with that stupid flailing from side to side and his tongue hanging out. You don’t often get to know too much about the riders unless you go looking, so you have to base your decisions on factors like this.”

I too have to confess to having supported Tom Dumoulin over the Italian. Most obviously, there’s the fact that Aru rides for Astana, no-one’s favourite team; a team who’ve been associated with several doping cases and who motored Vincenzo Nibali to disqualification in this very race. It’s important to note that up until now there haven’t been any real grounds for suspecting Aru of any kind of naughtiness, but he’s still in the same blue jersey. The Astana brand still has an impact.

So while logically I have nothing against the man, in practice I pretty much always prefer whoever he’s up against. Seeing him win the Vuelta is therefore disappointing, but only in the sense that I’d rather someone else won. I don’t actually object to his victory in itself.

How did he manage it?

I’m looking forward to seeing the highlights actually. Live coverage cut to an ad break at the exact moment Aru launched his decisive attack on the penultimate climb of the race. Upon returning to the action, there was a 20 second gap to Dumoulin. I wouldn’t have minded quite so much if approximately half the ads hadn’t been for Eurosport, the very channel I was trying to watch.

Astana do deserve credit for putting a plan together and executing it though. They had several riders in the day’s giant break and once Aru had that crucial gap, they sank back to help him out. At that point it was Dumoulin and the odd hanger-on from another team against an organised group of riders all working for the same goal up ahead. Aru was just tucked in behind them, saving strength for the final climb. Dumoulin never stood a chance.

The time gaps

The gap between Dumoulin and those ahead of him just grew and grew. It was pretty harrowing actually; imagining how he must have been feeling as the seconds turned to minutes. When he crossed the line, he had dropped to sixth overall, his six second advantage over Aru transformed into a 4m36s deficit.

Joaquim Rodriguez and Rafal Majka – who both finished in Aru’s group – moved up to second and third respectively. Majka was of course the second of my four or five riders to watch in 2015. Aru was the first.

The stage win

Perhaps irked by my unawareness of his existence prior to his Tour de France stage win earlier this year, Ruben Plaza was moved to offer a second striking display of his qualities. In many ways he picked the wrong day for an epic solo breakaway with all the excitement going on behind him, but even so, this was impressive stuff.

After inexplicably opting to dump the rest of the break not even halfway through the stage, Plaza then spent the next 112km explaining his decision in no uncertain terms.