We could all learn a thing or two from Fabio Aru
Like a pig in shit. That’s what Fabio Aru looked like over the weekend, slogging through thick slop, quintessential Aru Gurn on his face, a skinny little climber racing cyclocross again, happy as a clam.
We could all learn a thing or two from Aru. A thing or two about returning to where you come from, to the little joys you used to feel in something that, through years of repetition, has become rote and unenjoyable.
“Feeling better in the mud, but the most important thing is that I’m having fun like a child doing his first races,” Aru wrote on Instagram after his cyclocross race Sunday, his stoke emanating through the screen. “This is sport, this is my passion!”
It’s been a rough three years for Fabio. Remember when he won the Vuelta? It was 2015. He beat Purito. He was 5th overall at the Tour, too, in 2017. He wore the yellow jersey. He was, and probably still is, a damn fine bike racer.
We have short memories, though, and it’s easier to recall his ignominious exit from this year’s Tour de France, won by a teammate he was never willing or able to help. His own team told the whole world how soft he was, that his problems were psychological as well as physical. He left the race on stage 6 after getting dropped in the first 20 kilometers of the stage. “I really don’t know what is happening to me,” he said. “I have no answers, and this makes me suffer.”
It was the last time he lined up on the road for UAE-Team Emirates, ending a three-year span that can charitably be described as mediocre and uncharitably as utter garbage.
That wasn’t all his fault. In 2018, he was diagnosed with an iliac artery issue, which required surgery in 2019. He appeared to be on the rebound following the surgery, and ahead of the 2020 Tour de France indicated that his numbers were solid, his good legs returning. He was top 10 and the Tour de l’Ain, one of this strange year’s most important Tour tuneups.
That apparent pre-Tour form just made it more perplexing when he collapsed like a flan in a cupboard on stage 6, falling off the back of a peloton he once could have led. UAE’s Guiseppe Saronni didn’t mince words. “He just doesn’t respond when he gets into trouble,” he told Rai TV. “He does not fight back, on the contrary. He doesn’t have the character for that.”
From the comfort of our couches, through the long lenses of TV cameras, it’s easy to see elite athletes as more robotic than they really are; easy to dehumanize them, and forget that their ups and downs, lights and darks, can be just as inexplicable as our own. “Now I am here, stuck in a hole, without really understanding why,” Aru said after he left the Tour. Who among us hasn’t felt like that at one point or another? Aren’t we lucky that our similar moments aren’t visible on television?
Aru announced his intention to return to cyclocross a little over a week ago, posting an old photo of himself as a teenager, resplendent in Italian national team blue, already perfecting his gurn. “It all started here,” he said. He represented Italy as a junior at cyclocross worlds, and raced mountain bikes too. This is the part of the sport that first caught him in its grasp.
He entered three races, two near Treviso in Ancona and San Fior, and a third, his first for his new team, on Sunday near Cremona. He lined up in a black Assos kit stamped with Qhubeka – the team hasn’t released its 2021 kit yet – and finished fifth.
It doesn’t matter where he finished. It really doesn’t.
Maybe Aru will suck this year; maybe he’s done, merda, no longer a good bike racer. Or maybe a few days spent playing in the mud, happy as a pig in shit, remembering why he started doing this in the first place, is exactly what Aru, and all of us, need sometimes.