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Ride like Fabio Aru

19 Jun 2018

A closer look at the feisty Sardinian climber

Born on the island of Sardinia in 1990, Fabio Aru moved to the Italian mainland aged 18 to pursue his dream of becoming a Giro d’Italia champion.

It was the 2014 edition of that race where he first entered the spotlight of cycling superstardom, winning on the summit finish of stage 15 to Montecampione.

Despite standing 6ft tall, Aru’s lean physique makes him a natural climber, something that he likes to show off at every opportunity.

Aggressive by instinct, he is not one to sit and wait for an opportunity, instead showing an inclination to launch searing attacks on the steepest gradients – a style that has to date netted him six stage wins across the three Grand Tours, and overall victory at the Vuelta a España in 2015 aged just 25.

Having twice finished on the lower rungs of the Giro podium, he has made no secret of his ambition to reach the top step when he returns to his home race this year, backed by a new team and wearing the colours of the Italian national champion.

Fact file

Name: Fabio Aru
Nickname: Il Cavaliere dei Quattro Mori ('The Knight of the Four Moors')
Date of birth: 3rd July 1990 (age 27)
Born: San Gavino Monreale, Sardinia, Italy
Rider type: All-rounder, GC contender
Professional teams: 2012-2017 Astana; 2018 UAE Team Emirates
Palmarès: Vuelta a España overall winner 2015 & 2 stage wins (2014); Giro d’Italia 3 stage wins 2014-15, 2nd overall and Young Rider classification 2015; Tour de France 1 stage win 2017; Italian National Road Race Champion 2017; Giro delle Valle d’Aosta overall winner 2011 & 2012

Don't get big-headed

What? After his Vuelta success, Aru returned to Sardinia to be greeted by thousands of members of his fan club flocking to welcome him.

But the naturally modest Aru didn’t bask in the glory, instead using it as motivation to push himself even harder in training.

‘There is a pressure that comes with this attention, but the best way to answer my fans and to thank people who look at me as a symbol is to put 100% of my attention into my training so that I can be prepared for my next challenges,’ he said.

How? When you achieve one of your cycling ambitions – conquering the Etape du Tour, perhaps – it’s easy to sit back and think ‘Job done’, but this would be to let all the hard work you’ve put in go to waste.

It takes a lot of time and hard work to achieve peak fitness but it can all be lost very quickly and easily if you don’t maintain focus and keep working at it.

By all means allow yourself a celebratory drink or two, but don’t fall into bad habits.

Believe in yourself 

What? To any Italian cyclist growing up in the 21st century, Vincenzo Nibali is a national hero, and this is certainly true for Aru, who spent time riding alongside him on the Astana team.

‘To be in the same team as Vincenzo has been a great component in my growth as a cyclist. I’ve trained with him but also grown up with him. I’ve learned something from him in terms of his preparation and how he conducts himself.’

But Aru is not overawed by his rival’s status. ‘When you win a Grand Tour the goals change and you start to aim higher and higher,’ he says.

How? While we can learn a lot from our heroes, it is only by believing in our own abilities that we can achieve success for ourselves.

Going into a race believing that you are not capable of beating your rivals is the easiest way to guarantee failure. Focus on your own riding, work out where you need to improve and have faith in the things you can already do well.

This way you will be sure to make the most of your capabilities. 

Be practical

What? With his flair for attacking on the steepest mountain roads, Aru follows in the tradition of legends such as Marco Pantani, loved by fans for their panache and ability to light up races, and has stated his admiration for Alberto Contador.

But Aru recognises that it takes hard work to be able to ride like these greats.

‘I am honoured that I can put in these kind of legendary, big performances, but at the same time I am very practical and my view is just to concentrate on my training, which is how I am able to make those performances possible,’ he modestly states.

How? Sports psychologists often talk about visualisation as an important technique in achieving successful results, but as important as it is to be able to picture yourself winning races or conquering big climbs, there is simply no substitute for good old-fashioned hard work.

Even the most naturally gifted cyclists will never achieve their potential without hard work, dedication and commitment in training. Concentrate on the preparation, and the flair will follow.

Attention to detail

What? ‘The Vuelta win was a big step in my career, but the reason I was able to make the step up from contender to winner was through better attention to detail,’ Aru explained in a 2016 interview.

‘Even the very best riders have to train a lot and pay attention to every part of their preparation, health and fitness.’

For Aru, this means spending the build-up to big races living a monk-like existence in Tenerife, with long, hard training rides up Mt Teide and scrupulous observance of a strictly controlled diet.

How? Those of us who aren’t pro cyclists don’t need to go to quite the same lengths, but then our goals tend to be somewhat more modest.

Nonetheless, if you’ve got a big event coming up, it’s worth spending time thinking about how to prepare.

If the ride is going to be hilly, you’re not doing yourself any favours by sticking to flat roads in training – instead, find some local hills and practise riding up them until you get good at it!

Face your rivals

What? To be a true champion in any sport, it’s important to prove yourself against your greatest rivals. Aru knows this, which is why he signed up to ride against Chris Froome at this year’s Giro.

‘Froome is a great champion and really tough and that will make the race even more prestigious. I like big showdowns!’

How? You’ll never know how good you are until you pit yourself against the toughest challenges.

For example, you might have mastered all your local hills but you’ll never really know how good a climber you are until you take on the legendary Mont Ventoux or Col du Tourmalet.

And while clocking a decent time in a sportive can be satisfying, why not really test yourself with some proper racing?

Local circuit races are an easy way in, with the only entry requirement in the lower categories being possession of a British Cycling licence – see to sign up and find a race near you.

Try other disciplines

What? Aru’s earliest forays into cycling were in mountain biking and cyclocross, where he competed at national level as a junior, until his cyclocross coach recognised his potential as a road racer.

But those early years taught him many useful skills. ‘Starting from mountain biking or cyclocross can give any athlete a different level of knowledge and skill, like how to control and use the bike in a much better way,’ he says.

‘Just look at Elia Viviani, who came from a track background and is now doing well on the road. Your progress always requires discipline and character, but your early experiences also play a part.’

How? Cycling is a broad church and can be a bit tribal at times, with roadies, trackies and mountain bikers seeing themselves as belonging to completely different sports.

But mountain biking is a great way to develop bike-handling skills, while track cycling is perfect for developing explosive sprint power. 

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