While Fabio Aru’s retirement at the age of 31 last year may have come as a surprise to many, it did not for Aru himself. For the Italian rider, who won the 2015 Vuelta a España, the decision could not have been easier. The time had simply come. He wanted to focus on his family. But he was also keen to work in sport from a different perspective.
Aru finished his career as a professional cyclist on December 31, 2021, but he hasn’t stopped working. Almost immediately Aru signed a deal to work as a brand ambassador and tester for ASSOS, as well as with the historic Swiss resort town of Saint Moritz. In addition, he is working to develop his own cycling school for the children of Sardinia, the Italian island where he grew up, as well as the Qhubeka Charity, the title sponsor for his last professional team, who are focused on providing bikes for schoolkids in Africa.
“I’m still a sportsman. Sports will always be a big part of my life,” said Aru, before joking, “The idea of retiring and getting fat is just not possible. I would not be the same person.”
Needless to say, when Aru offered to show us some of his favourite training roads in and around Saint Moritz, we did not hesitate to join him.
“I have been coming to Saint Moritz more and more over the last few years,” said Aru, after we met up in the Swiss mountain resort. “As a professional, I would come here to train often. And this summer, along with the tourism office, we will launch the Fabio Aru Cycling Experience, high-quality camps with small groups of no more than five riders. It's a great place to cycle. First, the town is situated at 1,800 metres so you are getting all of the benefits of high altitude. In addition, there is a long valley of more than 50 kilometres, so you can ride on the flat at altitude if you want. And then of course there are the climbs. There are just so many climbs in every direction. And if you like gravel or mountain biking there are plenty of possibilities, too. Saint Moritz is just incredible. It’s a small town, but you can find everything that you find in a big city. And promoting outdoor sports has been something they have been doing for a long time.”
Wake-up call came early at the Hotel Laudinella in downtown Saint Moritz, as Aru was eager to hit the road before the tourist traffic picked up. On tap: a 97-km circuit that included the Ofen Pass, the Forcola Pass and the Bernina Pass. “This is actually one of the circuits of the Engadin Radmarathon and it is a perfect ride. It may be less than 100km, but with three climbs it is plenty hard. And it’s just beautiful.”
The ride opened with a 30-km jaunt in the valley, giving the sun a chance to rise and Aru’s legs a chance to warm up. Early morning temperatures in the Alps hovered in the low 10s celsius and Aru opted to keep on his leg and arm warmers until summer sun finally broke.
The Ofen Pass climb itself is short, and little more than a warm-up for Aru. But the terrain, with its bold rock formations and tunnels chiselled into the rockface, is clearly that of the high mountains. Then, shortly after a quick but technical descent, we found ourselves in Aru's native Italy.
The landscape is distinctly different, and the concrete tunnel that runs alongside the Lago Livigno is anything but beautiful. It is primarily functional, as it is designed to protect passers by from the frequent avalanches from the mountain above. And yet its sheer length, stretching kilometre after kilometre around the edge of the lake, is breathtaking in its own way. And once inside the tunnel, it possesses a unique beauty, as the light dances between the long repetition of concrete pillars, creating an uncommon visual rhythm.
Aru picked up speed.
Soon enough, however, we rolled into Livigno and immediately attacked the Forcola Pass. Starting at just over 1,800m altitude, the pass climbs to more than 2,300m in less than 15km. And while the Giro d’Italia comes here on occasion, these climbs have really earned a reputation as the training ground for the pros.
World Champion Julian Alaphilippe spent nearly a month here in June, attempting to return to form in time for this year’s Tour de France after his crash in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. And it came as no surprise to Aru when he ran into Alaphilippe’s team-mate, Zdeněk Štybar, midway up the climb.
The two riders stopped momentarily to chat. “I first ran into Zdeněk here maybe 10 years ago,” said Aru after they went their separate ways. “That’s how long we have been coming here.”
Aru is, of course, not preparing for the Tour de France this year, but he was only too happy to make some digs and accelerate over the steepening pitches near the summit which crossed back into Switzerland.
Cresting the col, however, the summer sun was fading as rain clouds built over the Bernina Glacier that towers over the valley. Aru stopped quickly to put on his ASSOS Alleycat jacket, before attacking the descent which promised to be cold and wet.
By the time he reached the foot of the final climb up the Bernina Pass, the sun was out once again. Such is the nature of Alpine weather. But it proved to be only fleeting, and as Aru made his way towards the summit, another wall of rain was on its way. Aru wasted little time as temperature drops are radical this high up in the mountains. But only a couple of switchbacks into the descent, the sun was out once again in full force, and Aru enjoyed the final descent into Saint Moritz.
“That is just an amazing circuit,” said Aru, after stopping by the edge of the Saint Moritz Lake in the heart of the town. “The climbs, the views, you name it... And I always love coming back to Saint Moritz. I never get tired of this town.”
For this ride, Aru relied on a variety of ASSOS gear, in particular the Equipe RSR Bib short S9 Targa, the Mille SS Jersey C2 in Qubeka Charity colours and the EQUIPE RS Clima Capsule Alleycat jacket.
“These shorts just came out and they have added compression. The fit is amazing and they are really comfortable. It’s a great short for the summer,” said Aru. “Sometimes I wear the matching EQUIPE SR jersey but I also really like the Qhubeka Mille GT jersey. It’s really comfortable in training and I love the Qhubeka colours. I got involved in the charity last year while I was still on the team. We even did a special run jersey to raise money for Qhubeka. It’s just a great organisation and I still support it when I can.”
Regarding the Equipe RS Alleycat jacket, Aru added, “I often take the Alleycat with me on a ride around here because, just like today, you never know what kind of weather you might hit. I often used the same jacket when I was racing. It is really light, very comfortable, and it is easy to roll up and put in your back pocket. Every piece of textile is chosen for comfort, for weight, for the wind or for the rain. It’s great.”