Fabio Aru can “start over” at Tour de Pologne as he looks to put Giro d'Italia nightmare behind him

Matt Jones 4/08/2018
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Fabio Aru (2nd r) endured a difficult 2018 Giro d'Italia.

Fabio Aru claims the Tour de Pologne gives him a chance to “start over” as he looks to put a nightmare first half of the season with UAE Team Emirates behind him.

Aru, 28, is in his maiden 12 months with the team but disaster struck at May’s Giro d’Italia, where he was forced to abandon the race.

It was subsequently decided that he would not feature at the Tour de France nor defend his Italian national road race title in the aftermath of what had been a difficult start to life after leaving Astana.

Aru attended a decisive meeting with the UAE Team Emirates management in the wake of the Giro – where he won the young rider classification on his way to second place overall in 2015, having come third at his home race the previous year.

Aru returned at the recent Tour de Wallonie where he finished 10th and is now in Poland as he looks to put another good performance together in the hope of salvaging his season at the Vuelta a Espana – where he was champion three years ago.

“After the problems I had at the Giro d’Italia, I stayed away from competition for about two months,” revealed Aru, with medical tests and a review of the Italian’s training after the Giro showing he suffers from a gluten and dairy product intolerance.

Fabio Aru is in his first season with UAE Team Emirates.

Fabio Aru is in his first season with UAE Team Emirates.

Aru also admitted that he spent far too long training at altitude, pushing himself deeper than his body wanted.

“I got back into the game with the Tour de Wallonie where I felt good. Now the Tour de Pologne will be an important test. The last times I’ve participated I’ve always had a nice time in Poland. From a technical level the routes are good and the crowds are always exceptional.

“The Tour de Pologne was already on my schedule in the beginning of the season and now it will be an essential step on the way to the Vuelta a Espana and even consideration in the World Championships.

“It is definitely a race from which to start over and face the end of the season on the right foot.”

The Italian champion last rode in the race in that successful 2015, achieving a fifth-place finish.

This year, the UCI WorldTour stage race forms part of Aru’s preparation for the Vuelta, beginning on August 25, and features favourable hills for the skilled climber.

Joining Aru on the tour, which started on Saturday, are Italian team-mates Valerio Conti, Edward Ravasi and Simone Consonni, alongside former world champion Rui Costa, Sven Erik Bystrom and Polish rider Przemyslaw Niemiec.

The team will be guided by an Italian duo of sports directors, Daniele Righi and Mario Scirea.

“I will arrive in Poland having regained a good racing rhythm in the Tour de Wallonie,” added Aru.

“The route for the Tour of Poland is well suited to my skills and could help me find an even better pedal stroke. There are four climbing fractions; it would be nice for the team and for me to manage to obtain some significant results.

“The team line-up features some excellent climbers, so we can aim for some satisfying achievements. This is also an important event in consideration of the Vuelta; it is a crucial step in preparing for the Spanish race.”

As it reaches its landmark 90th edition, the 2018 Tour de Pologne is sticking to a tried and tested formula of punchy uphill stages that go deep into the country’s southern mountains to decide the seven-day race.

The 1,075km event is a long one. With no individual or team time trial and where the crunch stages are often decided in short, uphill finishes, the Tour of Poland is set to be even more unpredictable and exciting than ever before.

It is a race of two halves, with bunch sprint finishes expected in the initial three stages and the GC battle to be contested in the later mountain segments.

The first two stages go through the city of Krakow, and then from Tarnowskie Gory to Katowice, which are very similar to last year and include the iconic 900m descent to the finish line.

The second half of the race heads into the central part of the Carpathian mountains and will culminate in fiercely fought duels on the punchy ramps around the mountain towns of Zakopane and Bukowina.

The last day’s racing is going to be challenging, featuring an on-going series of short, steep ascents on technical country roads across a 66km circuit.

It finishes in a brutal hill-top finish at Bukowina Tatrzanska, where thousands of local cycling fans are likely to line the route and keep the atmosphere charged until the race ends.

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Geraint Thomas flies under the radar to soar as Tour de France champion

Matt Jones 4/08/2018
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2018 Tour de France winner: Geraint Thomas.

Nowadays, he’s having to fight for supremacy among the leading lights of cycling – Chris Froome, Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish and Tom Dumoulin.

But back when even competing in the Tour de France – let alone winning it – was just a dream for Geraint Thomas, the only name in his sights was that of Jason Price.

Price was the Froome of emerging cycling stars back home in Wales around the turn of the century, and a teenage Thomas just could not beat his nemesis. Even when he did for the first time, it was when Price had the flu.

A lot has changed in the last 20 years though. Price, now 33, fell out of love with competitive cycling due to the intense pressure he felt as a teenager – he didn’t even get on a bike for a seven-year period at one stage and sold the eight he owned.

The 32-year-old Thomas, meanwhile, stayed in the saddle and continued to put in the hours, and it ultimately paid off after he won the sport’s grandest race in Paris last Sunday.

Price, from the tiny town of Llanwrtyd Wells in Mid Wales, would travel down to Cardiff as a 14-year-old to compete against the renowned CC Cardiff, Ajax CC and Maindy Flyers teams. And it was there, at the Welsh capital’s iconic Maindy Stadium, that Price first encountered a future Tour de France champion – not that you would instantly recognise the now famous Team Sky man.

Jason Price has fallen back in love with cycling after not riding a bike for seven years.

Jason Price has fallen back in love with cycling after not riding a bike for seven years.

“I knew him briefly. He was very quiet,” said Price, who now lives in Thomas’ home town of Cardiff where he works as a unit leader at a mental health facility.

“Quite a few of the boys were jokers and would try and put you off. But Geraint was always very quiet, concentrating on his racing.

“You could see he got it from his father. There were a lot of pushy parents encouraging their kids and his father was very calm and quiet on the side, so I think he got that from him.

“Probably every other weekend I used to race against him down in Cardiff for a good four years or so.

“He only ever beat me once and I was unlucky that time. Halfway through the meeting they postponed it because it started to rain.

“We had to come back the weekend after and I wasn’t very well at all, so I went from first to second in the rankings and he was the one who beat me.”

Back when Thomas and Price first crossed paths, in 1998, in the Under-13 boys category at the Welsh Schools Cycling Association Hill Climb Championships, Price topped the charts, finishing seven seconds ahead of nearest challenger Craig Cooke, with Thomas a gargantuan 36 seconds down in sixth place.

Mountain biking is the more popular form of cycling in the hills of Price’s native Mid Wales, but no-one else was keen on road or track cycling, so he would often travel down to Cardiff, as well as further afield to Plymouth and Manchester, in order to compete.

And he remembers that the locals in Cardiff didn’t take too kindly to this unknown outsider coming down and beating them all, convincingly.

“There was a divide with me being from Mid Wales and those boys all being from Cardiff,” Price recalls.

“I was the outsider and came from nowhere and started beating them. Some guy from the sticks beating them, they didn’t like that.

“They’d put in complaints because when I first started track racing I didn’t have a track bike. We had to rent one from Maindy Stadium and my dad took the pedals off my road bike and put them on the track bike.

“They whinged that I was doing that, then they’d whinge I was wearing a watch, stupid things. It was more the parents, I never heard anything from Geraint, he was as quiet as a mouse.”

Thomas had plenty of praise for teammate Chris Froome following his Tour de France triumph.

Thomas had plenty of praise for team-mate Chris Froome following his Tour de France triumph.

A year later, however, Price remembers Thomas had cut the gap down dramatically. Perhaps sick of being beaten by this teenage titan from the middle of nowhere.

Price said: “It was ‘98 so I’d have been around 13 or 14 and he was a year younger so would have been 12 or 13.

“The first year I would beat him easily and then the following year he’d closed the gap dramatically to only about three seconds. That was about a 30-second decrease in time.

“I moved up an age category then and he started winning the U15s when I was in the Over 15s and he went from strength to strength.

“I’d say I beat him at least half a dozen times that first year. But by 2000 he’d massively progressed.”

Progress he certainly did. By 2004, aged 18, Thomas achieved his first major win, taking the scratch race title at the UCI Junior Track World Championships in Los Angeles.

From there the honours kept rolling in. A year later he joined British Cycling’s Olympic Academy. He won team pursuit gold for Great Britain at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and World Championships in the same year too.

After that he moved onto the road to try and find success, serving as a domestique to first Sir Bradley Wiggins and then Froome at Team Sky – playing a huge part in the Kenya-born behemoth’s four Tour de France wins and three in a row up until Thomas’ own victory.

Even before this year, signs began to show that Thomas was deserving of more spotlight.

He won the famous Paris-Nice race in 2016. He was triumphant at the Tour of the Alps in 2017 – the race’s first British champion – and became the first Welshman to win a stage at the Tour de France when he claimed victory on last year’s opening stage time trial.

He held the yellow jersey from Stage 1-4 before relinquishing it to Sky leader Froome, while his race was ended following a crash on Stage 9.

The Criterium du Dauphine title was hoisted in June – won by both Wiggins and Froome in previous Tour-winning years.

Price always believed Thomas had the talent, perhaps not on the road, but certainly on the track, but is surprised he’s been able to win cycling’s highest honour with Froome in the same team.

These results from 1998's Welsh Schools Cycling Association Hill Climb Championships show Geraint Thomas wasn't always top dog.

These results from 1998’s Welsh Schools Cycling Association Hill Climb Championships show Geraint Thomas wasn’t always riding high in the saddle.

“He’s been the ultimate domestique. He’s done everything. He’s sacrificed the last four years for Wiggins and Froome. I always thought to win the Tour he’d have to leave Team Sky and do it somewhere else. It shocked me he’s done it,” said Price.

So what’s next? For Froome, 33, Price feels it would be wise to walk away from Sky, especially with all the controversy surrounding his salbutamol case in the wake of last year’s Vuelta a Espana victory. He believes it’s Thomas’ time to shine.

“I’d like to see him (Thomas) become team leader now,” he said.

“I think it’s his time and he should become the main man. He’s proved himself, this wasn’t a fluke. He looked totally calm throughout and didn’t crack.

“I think it’d be wise for him (Froome) to move on. Get clear of the controversy and a clean break from Sky.”

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UAE Team Emirates' Tour de France hero Dan Martin back in the saddle for Clasica de San Sebastian

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Dan Martin finished eighth in the general classification standings at the Tour de France.

Dan Martin is wasting little time getting back onto his bike following a brilliant Tour de France, as he pulls on his team’s jersey this weekend for the Clasica de San Sebastian.

The UAE Team Emirates’ man, who picked up eighth place in the General Classification (GC) finish and the award for the most combative rider at the Tour following his impressive attacking performances, will look to capitalise on his good form and become the first Irishman to win the one-day race on August 4.

Joining Martin in the Basque Country will be team mates Kristijan Durasek, Diego Ulissi, Alexandr Riabushenko, Manuele Mori, Jan Polanc and newly crowned Norwegian national champion, Vegard Stake Laengen.

The riders will be guided by highly experienced Spaniard, Matxin Joxean Fernandez, who has unprecedented knowledge of the region.

Fernandez said: “For lots of riders the Clasica San Sebastian is an opportunity to take advantage of the physical conditioning they’ve built up during the Tour de France.

“Our line-up will include two riders who have recently raced in the Grande Boucle; Daniel Martin, who was outstanding and always combative in France, and Kristijan Durasek, who is also very consistent on French climbs.

“We will also have Diego Ulissi, who has the skills to be an important rider in this race and proved recently at Prudential Ride London that he is in top form.

“But the competition is going to be fierce. It will be essential to make it to the final in a good position and with enough energy left to spend on what, in these last few years, has turned out to be the crucial part of the route – the climb on Murgil Tontorra.”

Dating back to 1981 and in its 38th edition, the mountainous 229km classic is a favourite among the climbers.

The 2018 route is similar to that of last year’s, with eight categorised climbs featuring across the day, with the brutal Iturburu, Jaizkibel and Arrate challenging riders to over 22kms of hard climbing.

The race could be defined by who emerges at the summit of the final one, the Tontorra, first, but they will have to manage their technical descent into San Sebastian if they are to take home the win.

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