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While his young teammate Tadej Pogačar was riding toward victory in Laruns in stage 9 of the Tour yesterday, the Sardinian was shadowed by the broomwagon as he rode solo at the back of the race. After around an hour of grinding on, the 30-year-old called it quits atop the Col de Hourcere, putting a premature end to his fourth Tour de France.
“I really don’t know what is happening to me. I have no answers, and it makes me suffer,” he said after the stage Sunday.
“I approached this Tour de France on my toes, I had trained well. Not to go for GC, but to help Tadej [Pogačar] in the best way possible and maybe, get some chances of my own if the opportunity arose.”
Since both winning the Vuelta a España and taking second overall at the Giro in 2015, the 30-year-old has been struck by a wave of setbacks, including a long-undiagnosed problem with blood flow through his leg and subsequent iliac artery surgery, and a rollercoaster 2019 that saw signs of past peaks at the Tour followed by a collapse at the Vuelta.
Going into this year’s Tour de France, Aru was full of confidence off the back of top-1os at Vuelta a Burgos and Tour de l’Ain, saying he was posting ” the best numbers in the last three years.” After a steady first week at the Grande Boucle, Aru lost nearly 20 minutes on the opening Pyrenean stage Saturday, and Sunday, didn’t even make it to the finish line.
“I had put in a series of encouraging performances in the run-up to this Tour de France, except the bad day I had in Lombardy,” Aru said Sunday. “I feel like I do not deserve this because I have always been an exemplary professional and given my maximum commitment. The team does not deserve this either and I suffer a lot in not being able to make my contribution as I would like to.”
Speaking after his abandon Sunday, Aru explained that his latest crumble was perhaps as surprising to him as it was to his staffers.
“Yesterday, talking to the team doctor, I told him that I was feeling better, and that I was confident for the rest of the race,” he said. “Now I am here, stuck in a hole, without really understanding why.”
Still yet to register a major result in his third season with UAE-Team Emirates, Aru is faced with the phenomenal rise of fellow GC rider Pogačar and upcoming stage racers such as American youngster Brandon McNulty. 2020 had looked set to be a make-or-break season for the Sardinian and it now looks like it’s more a case of the latter.
“Aru has disappointed us,” said team advisor Giuseppe Saronni, who previously managed the team.
“He has problems, also psychologically,” Saronni told Rai TV on Sunday. “He just doesn’t respond when he gets into trouble. He does not fight back, on the contrary. He doesn’t have the character for that. We need to properly evaluate who decided to take him to the Tour. And that has had an impact on Tadej Pogačar because Aru wanted to go to the Tour de France at all costs.”
Aru could have provided Pogačar a vital wingman in the mountains as the young Slovenian pushes toward the Tour’s podium. While Pogačar’s budding career is filled with hope, his teammate is now left contemplating his options.
“My future? Well, I’m not thinking about it right now,” Aru said. “I’m still processing the disappointment of today.”