TO THE MOUNTAINS
Aru leaves Froome in his wake
CHAMPAGNEY, FRANCE» After losing two of its biggest stars in one horror crash, the Tour de France needed a pick-me-up. Italy’s Fabio Aru answered the call. On the first mountain climb of this 104th Tour, after the lower altitudes where Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan were forced out of the race — the first with a broken shoulder, the second disqualified — Aru showed Wednesday he could be the man to beat by leaving three-time champion Chris Froome in his wake.
Making up for the bitterness in May of missing his home grand tour, the Giro d’Italia, Aru zoomed away from Froome and other top riders yearning to ride into Paris in the yellow jersey on July 23. The punishing climb to the Planches des Belles Filles ski station in eastern France’s Vosges mountains was made to look like a mere speed bump.
Froome played down Aru’s show of strength in winning Stage 5, noting there are still 16 more days of racing to go. But the 32-year-old veteran also acknowledged making a rookie’s mistake by not reacting quickly enough when the 26-year-old Sardinian slammed on his pedals.
“This is going to be the hardest-fought battle I’ve had,” he said. “We definitely cannot give Fabio that kind of space again.”
Wednesday’s 160.5-kilometer (100-mile) ride started in the spa town of Vittel which, like Froome, has seen better days — with shuttered hotels fallen into disrepair.
At the foot of the 5.9-kilometer (3.1-mile) finishing climb to an altitude of 1,035 meters (3,395 feet), everything seemed to be going to plan for Froome. His Sky teammates were powering up the ascent ahead of him, leading their champion up at a fierce pace aimed at dissuading other riders from attacking.
Aru hadn’t read the script. Despite the effort of his sudden acceleration with more than 2 kilometers (1½ miles) left to climb, he still had energy to spare at the top to finish with a sprint.
When Froome finally reacted, upping his tempo, it was already too late: Aru was gone.
“When he left, I stayed with my team and waited for the attack from the others,” Froome said. “But no one moved. I thought, ‘OK, I have to go, what can I do?’”
Fabio Aru of Italy rides solo on the way to winning Stage 5 of the Tour de France.