After helping Vincenzo Nibali to overall victory in his debut Giro d'Italia 12 months ago, Fabio Aru lines up in Belfast with a greater weight of expectation on his shoulders, but the young Sardinian is guarded about quite how far he can go in this year's race.
In the 1990s, Italian journalist Gianni Mura handed Gianni Bugno the nickname of "Vedremo" - "We'll see" - due to his reluctance to make any bold declarations on the eve of races, and Aru was similarly reticent when asked about his prospects at the team presentation on Thursday evening.
With Nibali choosing to focus exclusively on the Tour de France this season, new signing Michele Scarponi has been handed the reins of leadership at Astana's Giro team, but Aru will also be allowed a degree of freedom over the three weeks.
"The leader will be Scarponi and I'll try to stay close to him. After that, we'll see what I'm able to do," Aru told Cyclingnews. "I'd like to be able to grow and build on what I did last year. This is my second Giro and I want to test myself and see how far I can go."
Aru entered the professional ranks in 2013 after an amateur career that included victory at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and he was thrust straight into Astana's line-up for the Giro. Although he suffered from dysentery early in the race, he recovered sufficiently to finish fifth on the final summit finish in the snow at Tre Cime di Lavaredo after working in the service of Nibali at the base of the climb.
"I was a bit ill early on but we were riding to win the pink jersey with Vincenzo, and I hung in there," Aru said. "Certainly it was a bit of a surprise to feel so good at the very end of the race but I still don't know what my limits are.
"I felt a lot of improvements after riding the Giro last year, it was my first Grand Tour, but now I want to see how I'll get on this year. We've got Michele on the team, and he's a contender, so we'll see how things play out."
Aru has raced remarkably sparingly thus far in 2014, preferring instead to spend long stints training at altitude, and he begins the Giro with just 13 race days in his legs. He rode for two days at the Challenge Mallorca in February and was not seen again until the Volta a Catalunya in March, where he finished 20th overall. He completed his Giro build-up by taking seventh place at the Giro del Trentino, just ahead of Scarponi.
"This year I've raced a bit less compared to years gone by, but that was as planned with the team," Aru said. "I've done everything I can to be ready for this Giro d'Italia and now we'll see in the coming days whether the work I've done bears fruit."
Last year, Astana limited their losses to just 14 seconds in the Giro team time trial on the island of Ischia and gained ground on a number of their overall rivals, but it remains to be seen if this year's squad - without Nibali, Tanel Kangert and Fredrik Kessiakoff - will be able to match that performance.
"I haven't seen the course yet but I'm sure that it's going to be a tough test, like it always is at the Giro. These three opening stages of the Giro will be quite demanding," Aru said. "We'll see."
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