Former Vuelta a España winner Fabio Aru says he cannot explain the surprise physical capitulation that forced him to abandon stage nine of the Tour de France in the Pyrenees.
A fast and frantic start to the stage couldn't have helped, but the Italian was struggling from the off, riding in front of the broomwagon before relenting and abandoning the race.
Aru, now 30, has struggled to find consistent form in since joining UAE in 2018, and missed a period of the 2019 season to have surgery for a constricted iliac artery, which was causing him to lose power in his left leg.
After a 2020 season which has flown under the radar somewhat, Aru came to the Tour de France to try and help his 21-year-old team-mate Tadej Pogačar in the overall competition. And while Aru was forced to give up the Tour on Sunday's stage, Pogačar jumped up two places overall and took victory on stage nine.
Aru said post-stage that he cannot understand what happened to him during the stage, saying that he had been feeling good as recently as the end of Saturday's stage eight. On stage six earlier in the week, Aru even went on the attack and looked to be riding towards a semblance of the form that helped him win the Vuelta in 2015 and finish twice on the podium of the Giro d'Italia in 2014 and '15.
"I really don’t know what is happening to me, I have no answers and this makes me suffer." Aru explained.
"I approached this Tour de France on my toes, and I had worked well. Not to go for GC, but to help Tadej in the best possible way and maybe, who knows, get some chances of my own if the opportunity arose. 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.
"My training data also showed optimism in returning to a condition that allowed me to perform well, certainly the best numbers in the last three years.
"Also 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.
"Now I am here, stuck in a hole, without really understanding why."
The Sardinian is UAE's first rider to abandon the Tour, which has been a successful one for them so far. Alexander Kristoff took a surprise victory on a treacherous opening day in Nice to claim the first yellow jersey of the race, with Pogačar doubling up on the team's stage wins on Sunday as he continues to impress with some aggressive riding in the mountains.
Aru, whose contract with the team ends following this season, will now have to watch the remainder of the race from home. He wouldn't be drawn on what the future holds for him, saying he was still trying to come to terms with another disappointment.
"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. My future? Well I’m not thinking about it right now. I’m still processing the disappointment of today.”
Former UAE Team Emirates boss and now advisor to the team Giuseppe Saronni was seemingly unsympathetic to Aru's plight, and did not hold back when discussing him on Italian TV in the immediate aftermath of his abandon, saying: "Aru has disappointed us. He has problems, including psychological ones. He doesn't react to the first difficulties: he goes down, he doesn't have that character. We need to assess who has decided to take him to the Tour de France."
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