TROYES, France (AP) — Dancing on his pedals and accelerating up the mountain previous Chris Froome and all the different Tour de France favorites, Fabio Aru’s audacious assault introduced again reminiscences of Lance Armstrong’s one-time challenger, the late Marco Pantani.

It was the work of a “pure climber,” as Giuseppe Martinelli, Aru’s crew director who guided Pantani to the 1998 Tour title, put it.

“The way in which Fabio assaults jogs my memory of Pantani,” Martinelli stated in an interview with The Related Press. “Yesterday’s assault was identical to one in every of Pantani’s strikes.

“In addition to making the opposite guys harm, he additionally created a spot. And he is bought the braveness to strive,” added Martinelli, who has coached Pantani, Stefano Garzelli, Gilberto Simoni, Damiano Cungeo, Vincenzo Nibali and Aru to a complete of 9 Grand Tour victories.

The Stage 5 victory Wednesday on the Planches des Belles Filles ski station in japanese France’s Vosges mountains was the place Nibali arrange his 2014 Tour title, changing into the one rider to interrupt Froome’s hegemony over biking’s greatest occasion amid the British rider’s wins in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Whereas Aru is just not as full as Nibali, he appears to have an additional gear within the mountains.

“These days, numerous climbers assault solely once they’re positive they’ll attain the end, with 500 meters or a kilometer to go,” Martinelli stated. “Aru attacked with 2.5 kilometers remaining on a 5-kilometer climb. On a 10-kilometer climb he might be able to attacking with 5K to go.”

No matter he is able to, one factor is for positive: Aru — his title is pronounced with the accent on the primary A — has hastily turn into a severe risk to Froome, the yellow jersey holder.

With extra climbing on the route this weekend, particularly Sunday’s stage to Chambery within the Alps, which incorporates three beyond-category ascents, Aru might be seeking to enhance on his third-place place within the standings and erase his 14-second deficit to Froome.

“Chris could be very robust however I bear in mind battling with him because the 2014 Vuelta,” stated Aru, who received the Spanish Vuelta in 2015. “I respect him however I’ve by no means been afraid to assault him. It will likely be a battle till the tip. … When I’ve power I am going to assault.”

At 1.83 meters (6 ft) and 66 kilograms (145 kilos), Aru has simply the appropriate power-to-weight ratio to be a risk when the highway tilts upward.

Pantani had the same construct however his profession was derailed by doping instances and he died of cocaine poisoning in 2004.

So is Aru clear?

“He exhibits it day-after-day. Biking is clear now,” Martinelli stated. “I’ve bought a son who’s a professional and I do know that 99.9 p.c of the riders racing now are clear.”

The large query for Aru is whether or not he has the stamina to maintain up with Froome and different contenders like Richie Porte in phases with a number of climbs.

Froome stated he let Aru go as a result of he nonetheless had two Staff Sky members defending him and knew Aru was far again within the standings.

“In hindsight, I might have accomplished issues in another way however actually going ahead I am not going to observe him experience away,” Froome stated.

Aru had opened the season aiming to win the Giro d’Italia, which began in his residence area of Sardinia. However a knee harm pressured him to sit down out and give attention to the Tour as an alternative.

Aru additionally struggled final 12 months, cracking within the penultimate stage of his Tour debut.

His victory within the Italian championship every week earlier than the Tour was his first win in additional than a 12 months.

“I went via some actually darkish instances and solely these near me can actually admire how troublesome it was,” Aru stated.

Aru’s nationwide championship win got here whereas sporting the jersey of Astana teammate Michele Scarponi, who died after a collision with a van whereas coaching in April. After the Tour, Aru plans to present the jersey to Scarponi’s widow.

Within the meantime, Aru has traded his inexperienced, white and purple nationwide champion jersey for the polka-dot king of the mountains shirt.

Irrespective of which jersey Aru has on, he all the time wears a helmet and sunglass frames that includes a design of the Sardinian flag with its 4 Moors. He indicators all of his tweets with the hashtag of “ilcavalieredei4mori” — the knight of the 4 Moors.

“He is actually proud to be Sardinian,” Martinelli stated. “When he received the Vuelta he took a Sardinian flag — not an Italian flag — up with him to the rostrum celebration in Madrid.”

Aru is the one professional rider from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. He is now based mostly in Lugano, Switzerland.

“He needed to depart his household when he was 16 and transfer north to coach,” Martinelli stated. “His is a really Italian story in that he needed to to migrate to seek out success. It did not all come straightforward for him.”

Aru has additionally had two podium finishes within the Giro and at 27 stays comparatively younger for a Grand Tour contender. Nonetheless with no contract for subsequent season, he is a prized commodity.

“Often when (Astana crew supervisor Alexandre) Vinokourov needs to maintain one thing he does,” Martinelli stated. “I am assured he’ll stay right here.”


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