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.
"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."
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.
"My teammates were motivated even with the hit we took yesterday. We were motivated. It wasn't going to be easy, though,” added Aru.
"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.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1