While Fabio Aru’s retirement at the age of 31 last year may have come as a surprise to many, it wasn’t to 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 I also wanted to work in sports from a different perspective.
Aru ended 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 an ambassador and tester for the brand ASOS, as well as the historic Swiss tourist town of Saint Moritz. In addition, he is working to develop his own cycling school for children in Sardinia, the Italian island where he grew up, as well as the Qhubeka Charity, the title sponsor of his latest professional team, which are focused on providing bicycles for school children in Africa
“I’m still an athlete. Sport will always be a big part of my life,” said Aru, before joking: “The idea of retiring and putting on weight is just not possible. He wouldn’t be the same person.”
Needless to say, when Aru offered to show us some of his favorite training routes in and around Saint Moritz, we didn’t hesitate to join him.
“I’ve been coming to Saint Moritz more and more over the last few years,” said Aru, after we met in the Swiss mountain resort. “As a professional, I would come here to train often. And this summer, together 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 for cycling. First of all, the village is located at 1,800 meters, so you enjoy all the benefits of the altitude. In addition, there is a long valley of more than 50 kilometers, so you can ride the plane in height if you want. And then, of course, there are the climbs. There are so many climbs in every direction. And if you like gravel or mountain biking there are also many possibilities. Saint Moritz is amazing. It’s a small town, but you can find everything you find in a big city. And the promotion of outdoor sports is something they have been doing for a long time.”
The 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. Ready: a 97 km circuit that included the Ofen Pass, the Forcola Pass and the Bernina Pass. “Actually, this is one of the circuits of the Engadin Radmarathon and it’s a perfect route. It may be less than 100 km, but with three climbs it is very hard. And it’s just beautiful.”
The trip started with a 30km hike into the valley, giving the sun a chance to come out and Aru’s legs a chance to warm up. Early morning temperatures in the Alps were in the low 10s and Aru opted to keep his legs and arms warm until the summer sun finally came out.
The Ofen Pass climb is short and little more than a warm-up for Aru. But the terrain, with its bold rock formations and tunnels chiseled into the rock face, is distinctly high mountain. Then, shortly after a fast but technical descent, we found ourselves in Aru’s native Italy.
The landscape is distinctly different and the concrete tunnel that runs through Lake Livigno is anything but beautiful. It is primarily functional, as it is designed to protect passers-by from the frequent avalanches on the mountain above. However, its sheer length, which stretches kilometer after kilometer around the edge of the lake, is impressive 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, however, we entered Livigno and immediately attacked the Forcola pass. Starting at just over 1,800m altitude, the pass climbs to over 2,300m in less than 15km. And while the Giro d’Italia occasionally comes here, these climbs have really earned a reputation as a training ground for the pros.
World champion Julian Alaphilippe spent almost a month here in June, trying to return to form in time for this year’s Tour de France after his accident in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. And it was no surprise to Aru when he bumped into Alaphilippe’s team-mate Zdeněk Štybar halfway up the climb.
The two riders stopped momentarily to chat. “I met Zdeněk for the first time maybe 10 years ago,” Aru said after they parted ways. “That’s how long we’ve been coming here.”
Aru, of course, isn’t preparing for this year’s Tour de France, but he was more than happy to do some digging and speed up the steeper terrain near the summit on his way back to Switzerland.
Rising up the pass, however, the summer sun was fading as rain clouds built over the Bernina Glacier that towers over the valley. Aru quickly stopped to put on hers ASSOS Alleycat jacketbefore attacking the descent which promised to be cold and wet.
By the time he reached the foot of the last climb up the Bernina pass, the sun was coming out again. This is the nature of the alpine climate. But it turned out to be only fleeting, and as Aru headed for the summit, another wall of rain was on its way. Aru lost little time as the temperature drops are radical in such high mountains. But just a couple of laps into the descent, the sun was back out in full force and Aru enjoyed the final descent into Saint Moritz.
“This is an incredible circuit,” said Aru, after stopping on the shores of Lake Saint Moritz in the heart of the city. “The climbs, the views, whatever… And I always like to go back to Saint Moritz. I never get tired of this city.”
“These shorts just came out and have added compression. The fit is amazing and they’re really comfortable. It’s a great summer short,” said Aru. “Sometimes I wear the matching TEAM SR shirt, but I also really like the Qhubeka Mille GT shirt. It’s very comfortable in training and I love the Qhubeka colors. I got involved with the charity last year while still was on the team. We even made a special race shirt to raise money for Qhubeka. It’s a great organization and I still support it when I can.”
Regarding the Equipe RS Alleycat jacket, Aru added: “I often take the Alleycat for a ride around here because, like today, you never know what the weather can be like. I often used the same jacket when I was racing. It’s really light, very comfortable and easy to roll up and put in the back pocket. Every piece of textile is chosen for comfort, weight, wind or rain. It’s great.”