Fabio Aru clinched the 2015 Vuelta a Espana title when the race concluded in the streets of Madrid on Sunday evening with Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez and Polish cyclist Rafal Majka occupying the podium positions but the final three days were expected to provide an exciting duel between Aru and Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin who led the general classification by just three seconds after Stage 18. However, team tactics proved to be the essential ingredient enabling the Sardinian cyclist to claim ultimate victory as Dumoulin received little support from his Giant-Alpecin team.
Dumoulin had extended his lead to six seconds when taking advantage of a lapse in concentration by Aru on the Stage 19 finish as the leading riders climbed the short ascent around the walls of Avila. Aru had been urged to follow the wheels of the Dutchman on the cobbled roadway but a gap developed which was never breached, with opinions raised as to whether the Sardinian possessed the ability to overhaul Dumoulin during the tough mountain stage scheduled for the following day.
Four mountain passes formed part of the route for the penultimate stage of the Vuelta but several riders attacked on the opening climbs with both Astana and Movistar teams sending riders ahead of the main peleton. That move was aimed primarily to assist their general classification hopefuls later in the day as attacks were expected. Both teams also ensured that riders were present as the leaders negotiated the third of the four climbs that day.
Aru ably assisted by team-mate Mikel Landa accelerated on that third climb with Dumoulin failing to respond. Within a few kilometres most other riders within the top ten of the general classification had breached the gap to Aru, but not the Dutchman who was left floundering in his wake. There were no team-mate alongside or in the breakaway group to offer assistance and that situation must raise serious question marks as to the ambitions and organisation of Giant-Alpecin.
The team failed to defend the coveted red jersey on a day when Dumoulin just needed to stay in contact with Aru during the final two climbs. A noticeably demoralised Dutchman was clearly upset by the actions of the team management and the gap to the Astana rider was extended on the final climb with Aru enjoying a much easier ride than anticipated.
Next season Aru will be a leading contender for whichever Grand Tour he decides to enter but for Dumoulin, the Vuelta proved to be a learning curve. He may be a future challenger for the Tour de France should he improve upon his climbing ability but his chances of overall success will probably necessitate a transfer to a team with general classification ambitions, and with ability to provide assistance through the difficult mountain terrain. The Dutchman’s time-trialling ability is unquestioned but that next step in his road racing career will be important for Dumoulin.