Fabio Aru explains how team-work on the penultimate stage of the Vuelta a España netted him the lead

Fabio Aru‘s face may often be one of pain and suffering, but inside there is a drive to win. He and team Astana launched their attacks today on the last mountain stage of the Vuelta a España to drop Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and run away with the race lead.

The overall victory should be secured tomorrow when the 25-year-old Sardinian finishes the flat sprinters’ stage to Madrid.

Aru crashed yesterday, lost three seconds to Dumoulin and shutdown at the finish line. He refused to talk and rushed off to his hotel. It may not have looked good, but he found motivation overnight.

>>> Fabio Aru upset after crash and time loss in Vuelta a España

“I learnt in the under-23 ranks that a race is never over or never locked in,” Aru said after stepping off the podium in the red leader’s jersey.

“I tried to keep my head straight. Yesterday, Alessandro Vanotti took a bad hit, and he started today regardless. Paolo Tiralongo fell in stage two, had 18 stitches on his face, and wanted to race on. That showed me to keep on fighting.”

Fabio Aru on the podium after securing the Leaders Jersey Stage 20 of the 2015 Vuelta Espana

Fabio Aru on the podium after securing the leader’s jersey on stage 20 of the 2015 Vuelta Espana (Watson)

Aru turned a six-second deficient to a 1-17-minute lead over Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha). Dumoulin slipped from first to sixth overall at 3-46.

Astana pulled off a masterstroke in stage racing with two men, Luis León Sánchez and Andrey Zeits, in the early escape and with a power surge on the penultimate climb. Once Aru moved free, Mikel Landa jumped from Dumoulin’s group to join his team-mate. Their efforts were reinforced when Sánchez and Zeits dropped back to drill more time into a fading Dumoulin.

>>> Fabio Aru snatches Vuelta a España lead in thrilling mountain showdown

“My teammates were motivated even with the hit we took yesterday. We were motivated. It wasn’t going to be easy, though,” added Aru.

Mikel Landa on stage twenty of the 2015 Tour of Spain

Mikel Landa working for Aru as they distance race leader Tom Dumoulin (Watson)

“I went clear with Mikel Landa, he did a big about of work and always made himself available, he was very good. The gap was not big at the bottom of the descent, I had 15 seconds, but then I had Zeits and Sánchez, they did a great amount of work

“Landa showed that he can battle and be at the front of the grand tours. I won’t hide it, I’m upset that he’s going to another team next year [possibly Sky – ed.], we have a good relationship. I don’t think he’d think differently. He gave up his chances both in the Giro and in the Vuelta.”

Aru, after placing third last year and second overall this year in the Giro d’Italia, secured his first grand tour today in the Vuelta. It came at a good time, too.

Astana had problems through the last 12 months with doping cases, licences woes and cheating. As a super team, General Manager Alexandre Vinokourov explained that his team needed to win a grand tour. Aru, after some doubts, succeeded.