Astana left without a top GC captain; Vinokourov disappointed to see Aru go

Astana boss Alexander Vinokourov couldn’t hide his disappointment that Fabio Aru decided to jump ship.

The Italian star left the team where he made his pro debut in 2012, and penned a three-year deal to join UAE-Emirates. In what appeared to be an open secret was a bit of a shock, at least according to Vinokourov.

“Aru had another optional year with us, and he never warned us of his desire to leave,” Vinokourov told L’Equipe. “We asked him what his plans were on numerous occasions, but he never answered us.”

Aru’s exit leaves Astana in a bind. One of the peloton’s best-funded teams will enter next year’s WorldTour racing season without a major grand tour contender on its roster.

Vinokourov said the team only learned of Aru’s departure when he read the official team press release Tuesday, just hours before the course presentation of the 2018 Tour de France.

“I only learned about it in the press release. I am very disappointed in him,” Vinokourov said. “It puts us in a difficult situation because of the time of year. It will be impossible to find a replacement of his level, someone able to win the Tour de France.”

With most of the major GC stars committed to contracts, Vinokourov will have almost no chance to find a top rider to take Aru’s place at this stage of a busy transfer season.

Vinokourov said that the team explored signing Rigoberto Urán when it appeared Cannondale-Drapac might fold. He also revealed that Nairo Quintana’s agent approached the team during the Tour about possible interest in signing with the Kazakhs.

Neither of those options panned out. Urán is staying with the renamed Education First-Drapac team for 2018, while Quintana also confirmed intention to stay with Movistar.

Without Aru, and the departure of Vincenzo Nibali to Bahrain-Merida at the end of 2015 coupled with the tragic death of Michele Scarponi this spring, leaves the powerful Astana team without a marquee rider to lead in the grand tours.

Jakob Fuglsang, seventh in the 2013 Tour, will be back for next season. Injury knocked the 32-year-old out of this year’s Tour after taking a dramatic victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June. Miguel Ángel López, 23, will see more opportunities, but he only completed his first grand tour last month at the Vuelta a España, riding to eighth overall with two stage wins. Neither is considered front-line yellow jersey contenders.

Aru is the latest arrival to the bolstered UAE-Emirates roster for 2018 that also includes new arrivals Dan Martin, Alexander Kristoff, and Rory Sutherland.

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UAE-Emirates confirms Aru arrival

UAE-Emirates confirmed cycling’s worst-kept secret Tuesday, announcing that Fabio Aru will join on a three-year deal.

The 27-year-old Italian leaves Astana, his professional home since 2012, to join the ever improving lineup at the Emirati team.

“With his performances, he will contribute to promoting an ideal team image,” said UAE-Emirates manager Carlo Saronni. “He will likely help us reach important competitive milestones.”

Aru is the latest arrival to the bolstered UAE-Emirates roster for 2018 that also includes new arrivals Dan Martin, Alexander Kristoff, and Rory Sutherland.

Aru turned pro with Astana in 2012 and later won the 2015 Vuelta a España with the team as well as stages in all three grand tours.

At Astana, Aru shared leadership with Vincenzo Nibali through 2016, after which the Sicilian switched to Bahrain-Merida for 2017. At UAE-Emirates, he will split the calendar with Martin.

“I thank [UAE-Emirates] for the faith they’ve placed in me, and I hope to live up to their expectations,” Aru said.

Aru is expected to tackle the Giro in 2018, opening the door for Martin to return to the Tour.

Aru’s departure from Astana, coupled with the tragic death of Michele Scarponi this year, leaves the Kazakh team short of GC leadership. The squad doesn’t look to be adding a big name for 2018, meaning it will lean on Jakob Fuglsang and emerging star Miguel Ángel López. New arrivals Jan Hirt (12th in the 2017 Giro) and Spanish climber Omar Fraile will see more opportunities.

Aru’s move is the latest in what’s been a surprisingly busy rider market going into 2018.

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Fabio Aru joins UAE Team Emirates on a three-year deal

Italian national champion and 2015 Vuelta a España winner Fabio Aru moves from Astana to UAE Team Emirates for the 2018 season

Fabio Aru at the 2017 Tour de France

Italian national champion and 2015 Vuelta a España winner Fabio Aru moves from Astana to UAE Team Emirates for the 2018 season

Aru looks to finish challenging season with Il Lombardia win

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — With his knee injury and Astana teammate Michele Scarponi’s death, Fabio Aru is surviving a hard season. The Italian wants to end in style with Il Lombardia on Saturday, and he is promising to deliver “a good show” to his fans.

The Sardinian cyclist, fifth in the Tour de France, placed third in Thursday’s Milano-Torino behind winner Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac).

“I certainly want to give the maximum through until the end in what is a very hard race,” Aru said. “I know the climbs. It’s a hard Lombardia route, like the last one that Vincenzo Nibali won in 2015.

“I truly want to do well. It’ll be hard to win for sure, but I hope to give the fans a good show.”

Nibali showed his critics he was still one of the best cyclists in the world in 2015. He bounced back at the end of a difficult season to win several one-day races. In Lombardia, he attacked on the final climb and rode solo along the lakeside to finish in Como.

After a year in Bergamo, where Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) won in 2016, the race returns this weekend to finish in Como. The Ghisallo and Muro di Sormano climbs should break the race into groups and the smaller finishing climbs Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia should produce the winner.

“I’ve been out to try it twice after the Vuelta a España,” Aru added. “I know it, but more than knowing it, you need the legs.”

Aru appears to have the legs. In Milano-Torino, Astana rode to place him in an ideal position for the finishing Superga climb near Turin. He attacked and Colombian Rigoberto Urán countered and rode away solo. Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) escaped for second and Aru held off Nairo Quintana (Movistar) for third place on the podium.

“I’m happy with the result in Milano-Torino because from Saturday, when I restarted after the Vuelta a España in Giro dell’Emilia, I’ve had good sensations. And it was even better [in Milano-Torino],” explained Aru. “So I had asked my teammates to push it to try to close to the escape. Thanks guys. Now we are concentrated on Saturday.”

With 32-year-old Nibali nearing the end of his best years, Italy looks for its stars with eyes on Aru, who already won the 2015 Vuelta, and Gianni Moscon (Sky).

Aru survived a difficult 2016 season. He canceled his Giro plans after a training crash led to knee problems. Soon after, the driver of a truck hit and killed Scarponi during a training ride.

He then refocused on the Tour de France. He won the Planche des Belles Filles stage and wore the yellow jersey for two days. However, he had to manage with a weakened team as he fought his way to fifth overall in Paris.

“I always tried to give my best in the season. I always want to win and to be at the front, logically. In fact, many times I’ve said to my girlfriend, I ask much from myself. Anyway, I’m happy with how the season went,” Aru said.

“We had a hard season with losing Michele. My teammates fell badly at the Tour, Jakob Fuglsang and Dario Cataldo. It wasn’t always easy to manage the situation. But I’m happy with my season. And, OK, now we just have one race to go, Saturday.”

Aru will leave Astana over the winter for team UAE Emirates, according to sources close to the deal. In 2018, insiders say Aru will return to the Giro and Dan Martin will lead the Tour team.

“I still don’t know what I’ll do next year, but we need to wait to see the race routes,” Aru said. “It’s been two years since I’ve been to the Giro, and the Corsa Rosa is close to my heart.”

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VN Podcast, Ep. 46: The year’s best grand tour and the Colorado Classic

Welcome to the VeloNews cycling podcast, where we discuss the latest trends, news, and controversies in the world of cycling.

What do Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Romain Bardet, Tejay van Garderen, Andrew Talansky, Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru, Ilnur Zakarin, the Angliru, and the Yates brothers all have in common? They’re all in the upcoming Vuelta a Espana.

This year’s Vuelta might just be the best grand tour of the year. It certainly has the most star-studded GC field. So in this episode, Fred Dreier and Caley Fretz call up VN European Correspondant and amateur bon vivant Andrew Hood to dive into the course, the favorites, and the storylines of the impending Vuelta.

But first, let’s not forget about Colorado’s return to top-level pro racing. The innovative Colorado Classic took place last weekend, and the racing was aggressive and exciting. Is this format the future of bike racing? It might just be.

If you like what you hear, subscribe to the VeloNews podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. Also, check out the VeloNews Fast Talk training podcast with Trevor Connor and Fretz.

The post VN Podcast, Ep. 46: The year’s best grand tour and the Colorado Classic appeared first on VeloNews.com.