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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories | Commentary | Our YouTube page
2020 Tour de France | 2021 Giro d'Italia

The audiobook version of The Story of the Tour de France, Volume 1 is available.

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. - George Bernard Shaw

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Fabio Aru retires

Aru's Qhubeka-NextHash team sent me this announcement:

Fabio Aru, the 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion, a winner of stages in all three grand tours, a true fighter on the bike and a genuinely very nice man has called time on his pro cycling career, with the final stage of the 2021 Vuelta a Espana his last.

Fabio Aru

After Vuelta stage 21: Fabio Aru has ridden his last race. Sirotti photo

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, September 5, 2021/ -- At just 31 years of age, some may have been surprised upon hearing Aru's intentions to retire, when he made the announcement on the eve of the Spanish grand tour. Particularly because the Sardinian had just come into the best form he has had in the last 3 years.

After a solid showing at the GP Lugano this year, Aru then raised eyebrows at the lower key Sibiu Tour with a 2nd place finish on GC. The Vuelta a Burgos soon followed, where up against a very strong peloton, Aru attacking on Picon Blanco brought joy to so many in the cycling world. Another strong ride on the final mountain stage secured back-to-back 2nd places in the GC standings and confirmed the Aru was getting back to his best.

"The last 3 years had been very difficult for me. This year we opted to change my program, skip the Tour, and go to Lugano and then Sibiu. It was there I found a good feeling on the bike again. I could start attacking again and riding with that freedom you feel when you can actually race the race. It was a feeling I missed so much."

With renewed enthusiasm, Aru was selected to represent Team Qhubeka NextHash at the Vuelta a Espana. A race which has had so many defining moments in his career, winning two stages and finishing in the top 5 overall in 2014 was followed by him winning the race overall in 2015.

Given his history with the race, and love the Spanish cycling fans have for him, it is easier to understand why the Vuelta a Espana is the chosen stage for his final chapter. It would be the 'last dance' and a celebration of his career on the roads that already hold numerous good memories.

"In 2014 I won my first race as a professional at the Giro d'Italia, that was special, and I am not sure if anything can compare to that moment because I am Italian and to win at the Giro for an Italian is something else. That win changed my life and ensured people began to know who I am. But that year I also got to discover this beautiful country, Spain. I feel a lot of love and appreciation from the Spanish cycling fans. I think they enjoy the way I race, as I have always been a rider who will attack when my legs are good. I have always loved racing on these roads and up the great climbs around Spain, they hold so many of my best memories. "

Hours before the team presentation in Burgos, an emotional Fabio Aru announced his retirement plans to his teammates and then the world.

"For every rider there comes a time in their career when they know it is their time to stop. This time is different for each rider, for me it is a feeling, and I have this feeling now. For 16 years I have been a bike rider, this career has required that I spend a lot of time away from my family. Now it is my time to give back to them. Now I just want to enjoy this final experience and do my best."

The Vuelta got off to a positive start as Aru was firmly in GC contention up until the end of stage 10. However, a lingering stomach issue that first surfaced just before the rest day took a turn for the worse after stage 11. A fairly-tale ending seemed doomed for Aru as he spoke to the media in Jaen, on the morning of stage 12.

"I feel really, really bad, I am completely empty at the moment. Last night and this morning have been terrible, with the vomiting and diarrhoea. Right now, I am not even sure I will be at the start line later."

As Aru has done many times in his career though, he fought with everything he had, and mustered up the strength to start the stage not knowing if he would even be able to make it past the neutral zone. The stage got off to an incredibly fast start, the peloton averaging over 50km/h for the first 80km of the stage in sweltering heat. The much-expected abandon never came though, Aru completed the stage.

With the worst behind him, Aru was able to recover somewhat over the following stages and soon showed the form he had pre-race, had not left. Between stages 15 and 19, cycling fans were treated to four out of five days of attacking from Fabio Aru.

The cheers as the breakaway passed were maybe that little bit louder than usual on those days, and although the peloton gave nothing away on each occasion, shutting the break down, nothing could smother that famous Aru smile that has so fittingly returned on the roads in Spain.

"I went through a very difficult period in this race. A big thank you to the team for helping me through it, it was a small victory in itself. Over these last days I have truly enjoyed just being able to give my best. To be at the front with power in the legs. The support has been special, I have received so many lovely words and I thank you all. Certainly, I will need some days to understand the feeling entirely, so it is difficult to say right now how I feel as go to start my last day as pro, but I am glad to be here now, racing for Qhubeka, and I am happy."

Tour of Britain's second stage team reports

We posted the report from second-place Ethan Hayter's INEOS Grenadiers team with the results.

Here's winner Robin Carpenter's Rally Cycling team's post:

A daring solo move with 30km to go saw Robin Carpenter blow away the breakaway and outrun the peloton, to claim his first European race win.

Robin Carpenter

Robin Carpenter wins stage two.

Not only did he secure the stage honors, Carpenter also finished with enough time on the peloton to go into the blue overall leader’s jersey.

“I was feeling really good almost all day, then the last 15km were super tough. I didn’t have a whole lot left in the tank, but I knew I had a big gap. I just had to keep it steady and make sure I didn’t explode.”

Carpenter attacked the descents into Exeter with relish, but he found the tank almost dry by the time he reached the city.

“I was falling apart at the end but I made sure to be falling apart by myself.”

Here's the report from Team Jumbo-Visma:

Chris Harper has crashed in the first kilometres of the second stage of the Tour of Britain. It meant the end of the stage race for the unfortunate Australian. A hard blow, especially with regards to tomorrow’s team time trial. Wout van Aert lost the leader’s jersey to stage winner Carpenter the day after his victory in the opening stage.

Five riders broke away early in the stage to Exeter and took a maximum lead of almost eight minutes. Team Jumbo-Visma wanted to control the race, but got little help from the other teams on the hilly and sometimes steep British roads. Van Aert crossed the line together with George Bennett and Pascal Eenkhoorn in the depleted peloton.

“It’s a shame that Chris crashed out of the race today”, sports director Frans Maassen said. “The plan was to create a good starting position for the team time trial tomorrow. Due to the loss of Chris that plan is more or less out the window. The result today is fine, but we had to do more work than planned and hoped for.”

For the team, the team time trial was an important day in the Tour of Britain. “After tomorrow we have to see what we can do with Wout in the general classification. A good team time trial is crucial for a good classification. So it is even more disappointing that Chris is no longer riding. Tomorrow we really wanted to show ourselves. The changes we had to make earlier were already not in our favour. We’ll have to see how far we get with five motivated riders in the team.”

According to Maassen, Van Aert had not set his sights on sprinting today. “Before this race we talked with Wout to choose the days to show himself. That perhaps led to a little more unrest in the peloton. Everyone was looking at us and we couldn’t and didn’t want to do it alone. That’s racing. Wout has to leave this race with a good feeling and he made a good start yesterday.”

Harper had his elbow stitched up in hospital and, under the circumstances, is doing well.

Fourth-place Max Kanter's Team DSM posted this report:

Stage two at the Tour of Britain saw the race head to the hills and arguably the most challenging parcours of the week with 3000 metres of elevation gain throughout the stage, with constant rolling hills. It was a steady start to proceedings with a five rider group going clear at the front of the race and all Team DSM riders in the bunch.

The breakaway’s advantage quickly ballooned out to almost five minutes before a sudden increase in pace back in the peloton saw it dramatically cut to only 45 seconds with roughly 100 kilometres to go. Yet, an easing in the bunch then saw it increase once again to over seven minutes. Riding strongly over the challenging terrain, the break held onto a four minute advantage and heading into the last 35 kilometres. With most of the longer climbs dealt with, the break split on one of the many uncategorised ramps and Carpenter went solo, holding on to take the stage win.

Back in the peloton, Mark Donovan, Nicholas Roche and Max Kanter survived the climbs well in the very reduced peloton, with the Donovan and Roche working to position Kanter for the finale. After being dropped off, Kanter surfed the wheels well in the closing kilometre, weaving his way through the bunch and kicking on the uphill drag to the line for a good fourth place at the finish.

Max Kanter

Max Kanter racing in the 2019 Tour of Poland. Sirotti photo

“Today was a pretty tough stage in the Tour of Britain,” explained Kanter. “We had the plan to go for a sprint with Nils, but in the race the pace was high and there were some splits in the bunch and we had to adapt our plan. Mark, Nico and me stayed in the first group and we tried to go still for the best result possible. As one rider still stayed away from the early break away, it came down to a reduced bunch sprint for second place. I was a bit boxed in at 250 metres to go and just got a clear run in the last 150 metres. At the end I got 4th place for us and I’m proud of how the commitment was in the team today. We’ve had a good start and are looking forward to more days in Britain.”

Team DSM coach Phil West added: “It was a hard day out with quite a tricky parcours. Mark was involved in a crash early on but thankfully he’s okay. We had the same plan to go for Nils today and the guys worked really well as a unit. The parcours was quite tough across Dartmoor and unfortunately Nils was distanced. Tim and Romain worked really hard to try and bring him back, and they almost made the junction again but unfortunately we just didn’t make it. Immediately when we knew it wasn’t possible with Nils we made the switch to go with Max. Nico and Mark did a real good effort to bring Max into position so he could do a sprint and in the end he took third from the peloton and fourth on the stage. Again it was a good team effort and with super communication and work throughout the stage by the guys and it was reflected in another nice result for us. We continue again tomorrow in the team time trial.”

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