Fabio Aru looks certain to return to the Giro d'Italia in 2017, given that it starts in his native Sardinia and his Astana team has already announced him as team leader for the race, but the Italian was typically cautious about his plans for the coming season when interviewed on RAI television's Radio Corsa programme on Thursday.
"The Giro is starting from Sardinia again. I wasn't a professional in 2007 so for me it would be the first time," Aru said. "I say 'would' because first we have to weigh up the programme with the team and the staff, but certainly I'd really like to be there.
"In the coming days in Montecatini [where Astana has its first get-together of the new campaign – ed.] we'll define the programme for 2017. The Giro is certainly a motivation."
The 2017 Giro begins in Alghero on May 5, and will feature three road stages in Sardinia, before the corsa rosa takes an early rest day to travel to Sicily, where a summit finish at Mount Etna awaits. It is likely that Vincenzo Nibali, now at Bahrain-Merida, will also be on hand at the 100th Giro, while two more of Aru's former Astana teammates, Mikel Landa and Diego Rosa, are expected to line up for Team Sky.
"There's a lot of respect between us. They chose other projects for next season and I can only wish them a lot of luck," Aru said of the recently departed Nibali and Rosa.
Although Aru has yet to confirm his programme for 2017, his impending return to the Giro means that his early-season schedule ought to have more in common with 2014 and 2015 than with last season, when he made his Tour de France debut.
After placing on the podium of the Giro in each of the preceding years and then winning the Vuelta a España in 2015, Aru was Astana's designated leader for the Tour and expected to compete for a place in the top five or even the podium.
The Sardinian struggled in France, however, and though a high overall finish was within reach come the final weekend, he cracked dramatically on the Col de Joux Plane on the penultimate stage and reached Paris in 13th place on GC.
"For me 2016 was a very difficult year. I learned more from a year like that than from the years where everything went well. We made some mistakes but I'll keep those between me and the team," Aru said, though he insisted that he had not been so fazed by his Tour experience that he would not return there with ambition.
"I'll come back to the Tour sooner or later because it's a race that I liked a lot. It's stressful but beautiful. I never dwell on whether a race is more or less suited to me. I think there was a bit more stress at the Tour from the opening stages, but it's not excessively harder than the Giro or the Vuelta. There's pressure in all of these three-week stage races. I repeat: I liked the Tour, even if it didn't go well for me."
Although Aru opted not to defend his Vuelta title in 2016, his season continued all the way to the Tour of Lombardy in October – where he placed 11th – by way of the Rio Olympics, the Canadian WorldTour races and the late-season one-day events in Italy. His training regimen for 2017 is only beginning to take shape.
"In this period you do a lot of alternative activities that you neglect during the year, from mountain biking to the road, but also gym work and hiking," he said. "But then from the start of December in Spain, we'll start to go on the road more and more, and with more intensity."