Italy's Fabio Aru is far from the best-known name in the Tour de France peloton but that is changing fast now that he is wearing the Maillot Jaune as race leader. Aru had already been in the spotlight when he was accused of poor sportsmanship after attacking triple champion Chris Froome in controversial circumstances during stage nine. Not without irony, Aru was the major beneficiary of Froome’s failure to cope with a brutal finish to stage 12 from Pau to Peyragudes.
By his own admission, Froome “just didn’t have the legs” on the last of four climbs at the end of the 214.5 km slog that took nearly six hours to complete and which has thrown the general classification wide open with a week still to go. His rivals are now smelling blood, especially with two other big names _ Spain’s Alberto Contador and Colombian Nairo Quintana out of contention.
France’s Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale won the stage with Aru third, two seconds in arrears, and Froome seventh, another 20 seconds adrift. That put Aru, riding for Astana, six seconds ahead of the Englishman and primed for the biggest week of his career, which already includes a Grand Tour win – the 2015 Spanish Vuelta.
“It’s the biggest thing that could happen to me,” he said. “I never imagined it could happen. It won’t be easy to defend.” Froome congratulated him, saying: “The race is certainly on now.”
Despite their recent history and how much is at stake now, the pair seem to be on good terms. That wasn’t necessarily the case last Sunday – the stage that claimed Australia’s big hope Richie Porte in a horror crash – when Froome signalled that he had a mechanical issue six km from the top of Mont du Chat.
The usual protocol – the “unwritten rule” — is for the peloton to wait for the inconvenienced rider in such circumstances, but Aru appeared to take advantage of the situation by increasing his pace. Porte and Ireland’s Dan Martin told him to slow down, which he eventually did, and Froome got back on the pace, not without a gesture of annoyance. One team, however, AGR2 Mondiale, went on ahead to try to get their man, Bardet, the stage win, and almost succeeded.
Aru claimed later he did not realise Froome was in trouble — which is hard to believe because he was immediately behind when Froome began waving his arm _ and that he stopped as soon as he found out. “So, I agree with Chris that attacking the race leader is not done,” he said during Monday’s rest day.
I also agree. But not everyone does. It has become a major talking point, with triple Tour champion Greg Le Mond saying the so-called unwritten rule should be scrapped. It is causing riders to lose their ability to race and sponsors should be asking for their money back, he says.
“There should never be an unwritten rule that you should stop. Sponsors are paying millions of dollars to get performances,” the American told Reuters newsagency. “If you’re riding along at 40kph and you see the yellow jersey stops to urinate you don’t attack.
“If the race is on, it does not matter what happens to the yellow jersey, he’s got a team and that is what a team is for.”
Le Mond, who won the Tour in 1986, 1989 and 1990, said AGR2’s strategy was “the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. There’s no team like that on the Tour, they are happy with second place. These guys should perform for their sponsor. I would ask for some money back. The riders have lost their ability to race.”
The debate over rider etiquette is interesting and Le Mond’s view that riders should race, no matter what, has surprised a few people. He was one of the greatest and most aggressive riders of any era but I don’t remember him ever attacking a rival who was having bad luck.
I don’t have a problem with any attacks that happen once the hammer is down towards the finish – that’s racing. I just can’t handle guys who attack because their rival has had a problem. Aru was definitely out of line.