Fabio Aru (Astana) has told Cyclingnews he has a lot of respect for Chris Froome (Team Sky), but insisted he is not afraid to attack the Team Sky leader in the Tour de France Pyrenean stages that begin on Thursday with a finish on the mountain landing strip at Peyragudes.
Aru is just 18 seconds down on Froome after attacking Froome and his other overall rivals to win the mountain stage to La Planche des Belles Filles. He then matched Froome's attacks in the Vosges last weekend, becoming the biggest threat to Froome's fourth victory.
Their rivalry intensified when Aru seemed to attack after Froome's mechanical problems on the Mont du Chat climb, but both denied any problems after Froome then seemed to accidentally nudge Aru off the road after a hairpin. So far their race has been an exchange of jabs and testing blows. However, Aru may look to land a knockout punch in the Pyrenees.
"I've got a lot of respect for Froome, but I'm not afraid to attack him and so take on the race," Aru told Cyclingnews.
"I like to light up the races, to entertain people watching the race at home. I was really sorry to see Richie [Porte] crash out and that other riders were injured last Sunday, but the truth is it was a great race to watch. We'll see how things go in the Pyrenees, but it'd be great to see more attacks and have another two big mountain stages."
Froome has confirmed he will stick to Aru's wheel 'like glue' because of his concern about the Italian's attempts to take the yellow jersey. But Aru is looking wider afar.
"I don't think I'm Froome's only rival. Bardet and Uran are also close in the general classification. They're both experienced Grand Tour riders; Bardet was second here last year and Uran has been on the podium in the Giro d'Italia. They're serious rivals that nobody should underestimate," Aru pointed out.
"I'll also be watching Quintana. He's a bit behind and has the Giro d'Italia in his legs, but I know from when I won the Vuelta that he never gives up. Even someone like Alberto Contador could try a long-range, all-or-nothing attack, as he's done in the past. A lot could happen in the Pyrenees."
While Froome has done several reconnaissance rides in the Pyrenees, Aru admitted that he is riding into the unknown during the next two days. He rode the Tour de France for the first time in 2016 and climbed the Col de Peyresourde, but he will have to count on the experience of directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli and teammate Jakob Fuglsang, who will start Thursday despite being diagnosed with two micro-fractures in his elbow and wrist. Aru will be without Dario Cataldo, who also crashed during stage 11 and was forced to abandon.
"Then we've got two really tough days in the Pyrenees," Aru told Cyclingnews quietly, concerned about the climbs they face and the possible intensity of Friday's 101km stage to Foix.
"The first has the Port de Bales, the Col de Peyresourde and the nasty finish to Peyragudes. It'll be a hard stage. I think the day after will be equally as hard even though it's a short stage. We've seen short stages are always nasty. We only need to look at the Vuelta or more recently at the Criterium du Dauphine to see that. They can cause huge damage. When stages are short people are less afraid to attack and so you have more guys going for it.
"I've seen some videos of the Port de Bales, of when Contador attacked Andy Schleck in 2010 after he dropped his chain. But that's it. I knows the names of the climbs but I don't really know what they're like.
"I'm curious to see how I perform. Last weekend's stages were tough and revealed a lot. They created a shake out, with riders close overall and others spread out across a few minutes. I'm curious to see if something happens again in the Pyrenees. I hope to be ready if it does."