Italy has a new darling: Fabio Aru, the winner of the 70th Vuelta a España. Coming at the start of the race as one of Astana’s three leaders, alongside Mikel Landa and fellow countryman Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru emerged in just a couple of days as the team’s sole captain, once Nibali was expelled from the race and Landa lost important time before the race hit the big mountains. As a result, the expectations surrounding the young Sardinian grew, in his country, but also in his team, considering he was Astana’s best bet at winning a Grand Tour this season, after the Kazakh outfit missed on both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.
In the second week of the race, Aru took the leader’s jersey, but despite this, he wasn’t regarded as the main favourite at the overall victory, due to the fact that Tom Dumoulin was looking more and more impressive in the mountains, going at his own pace and limiting the losses, a tactic which made many find similarities between his style and the one of Miguel Indurain, the five-time Tour de France winner. On top of that, once the Vuelta left behind its last mountain top finish, Aru had 1:50 on his Dutch rival, a gap most considered too small before the 39 km-long individual time trial in Burgos.
There, people were expecting Dumoulin to smash his rivals and put minutes into them, and the scenario went according to plan with just an exception: Aru – who worked hard in the wind tunnel last winter – made the time trial of his life and at the end of it he was sitting just three seconds adrift of his Dutch rival. A couple of days later, in Avila, the Giant-Alpecin rider doubled his advantage and the Italian’s chances of turning the tables in his favour were looking slimmer and slimmer. But Aru didn’t gave up and decided to play all his cards on the penultimate stage, which had four hard climbs on the menu.
Supported by a very strong and motivated squad on the road, the 25-year-old played it smart since the beginning of the day, sending two teammates in the breakaway and then putting the hammer down on the third ascent, a move which turned out to be decisive, as Tom Dumoulin was dropped before the top of the Puerto de la Morcuera and without any teammate to help him, he ended up losing almost four minutes in Cercedilla.
By winning the Vuelta and becoming one of the youngest rider in the past decade to have a Grand Tour triumph under his belt, Fabio Aru made the Italians dreaming of a bright future in stage races once Vincenzo Nibali will be past his prime. After finishing second in the Giro d’Italia and winning the last Grand Tour of the season, a new challenge looms on the horizon for Fabio Aru: the Tour de France, where he’s very likely to make his debut next season – his fourth as a professional – when the pressure put on his shoulders will be bigger than anything he faced so far.