Fabio Aru was a surprise guest at the presentation of the Giro d'Italia and was invited on stage to discuss the route with Vincenzo Nibali. Like his Astana teammate and 2017 rival Vincenzo Nibali, he refused to confirm if he will actually be at the start on May 5 in his native Sardinia.
Aru will step up and fill Nibali's shoes as the Astana team's leader and best hope for success in the Grand Tours after Nibali leaves for Bahrain-Merida. Aru finished second in the 2015 Giro d'Italia and won the Vuelta a Espana but struggled in 2016 after focusing his season on the Tour de France. He cracked on the final mountain stage to Morzine, losing 17 minutes and slipping to 13th overall.
Race organiser RCS Sport is hoping for a Nibali-Aru duel in 2017 after the two best Italian Grand Tour riders finally become rivals after four years together at Astana. By including stages in Sardinia and Sicily, it will be difficult for both Aru and Nibali to miss the Giro d'Italia but any final decision will also depend on their team's hopes and ambitions for the 2017 season. Both could be under pressure to also target the Tour de France due to sponsor interests.
Astana directeur sportif Alexandr Shefer indicated to Gazzetta dello Sport recently that Aru will return to riding the Giro and Vuelta in 2016, but despite the three opening stages on his home roads of Sardinia, Aru avoided confirming he would ride.
"I can't say if I'll ride it. We'll decide our goals and race programmes for 2017 at the first Astana get together at the end of November," he said, perhaps wary of revealing his plans before speaking to team manager Alexandre Vinokourov.
"I hope I've played a part in the Giro d'Italia starting in Sardinia. I'd hoped they'd get the start and it's going to be great for people in Sardinia to see the Giro from the roadside. It's only happened four times in the hundred year history of the race."
Aru liked the race route even if he is likely to lose time to his rivals in the two time trials on stage 10 and stage 21. Italian media quickly suggested that he would have to drop Nibali in the mountains if he wants to defend the pink jersey in the final 28km time trial to Milan.
"It's not an easy race for sure and will be undecided right to the final time trial. It suits complete riders who can climb and time trial," Aru suggested.
"Whoever wants to win the Giro d'Italia will have to be on form right from the start and right to the end. I don't know about having to drop Nibali but don't worry, I know I'll have to work hard to be ready for the time trials too."