Aru leaves Froome in his wake

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Le­ices­ter and An­drew Dampf

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?’”

Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Fabio Aru of Italy rides solo on the way to win­ning Stage 5 of the Tour de France.

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