Chris Froome (Team Sky) attended the presentation of the 2019 Giro d'Italia route in Milan on Wednesday, and despite being the 2018 winner and being pushed by the Italian television presenters to commit to returning next May, the British rider stuck to the Team Sky script and insisted team leadership for the 2019 Grand Tours will only be finalised in December.
"I don't know yet. It's a decision I'll have to take with the team," Froome said.
"The Giro is an important race for the team and it's the tenth anniversary of Team Sky so I think it's really important to target the Giro d'Italia as well. We're all going to sit down in December and decide who's doing what. If I'm not there to defend my title, then there will be one of my teammates doing the same thing for the team."
RCS Sport has put together a varied parcours replete with three individual time trials for a total of 58.5km against the clock between the 8.2km opening stage in Bologna, the 34.7km stage 9 to San Marino, and the final stage in Verona. There are five summit finishes, including the vicious stage 16 that crests the Gavia and Mortirolo passes before finishing atop Ponte di Legno after 226 grinding kilometres.
Froome confirmed he would race the 2018 Giro d'Italia during last year's presentation via a short video. Only he and Team Sky knew that he was fighting to save his career after testing over the limit for salbutamol. He raced and won the Giro d'Italia sub-judice and was then cleared of any anti-doping rule violations by the UCI and WADA before the start of the Tour de France.
This time Froome dressed smartly in a suit and tie and seemed to like the route, giving the Italian media some enthusiastic sound bites while remaining firmly uncommitted.
"Having won six Grand Tours now, each time I go away from one, it sinks in just how hard it is to win one. If I'm able to win another one or another two, whatever the number, I'd be extremely grateful," Froome said.
"It's a very balanced Giro route, whoever wins will have to be fantastic in time trials and on the climbs. Not just one of them. Like every Giro the second half is very tough with lots of iconic climbs such as the Gavia and Mortirolo, that's where you'll see the real 'campione' of our sport emerge, that's it's the stage where you will see the difference between men and boys."
"It's really tempting looking at it. It's an epic race and having won this year, it'd be difficult to watch it on TV and not be there next year."
Froome attempted the Giro-Tour de France double this year, but fell short in the Tour de France to his teammate Geraint Thomas and Team Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin after winning the Italian Grand Tour.
There has been speculation that Froome would skip the Giro d'Italia in favour of a full focus on a fifth Tour de France, but that would also put defending Tour champion Thomas in the position of competing for Team Sky leadership once again.
Gianni Moscon hinted that he will have a free role at the Giro d'Italia and that could indicate that neither Froome or Thomas will be the team leader. Egan Bernal was spotted riding the Bologna time trial course on a time trial bike the day before the Giro dell'Emilia in September and it is likely the Colombian will be Team Sky's team leader next May.
"If I don't go to the Giro, one of my teammates will be there trying to win," Froome repeated.
Yet Froome isn't ruling out the idea of another Giro-Tour double attempt, especially after he sat out this year's Vuelta a España.
"It's not impossible. This year I tried and it was very difficult, but this year for me wasn't only the Giro and Tour, it started the year before with the Tour and the Vuelta, so it was four Grand Tours in a row," Froome pointed out.
"That was long. I think I paid in the end at the Tour, I didn't have the legs anymore. I think it's possible. I've won the Tour and Vuelta together so I think it's possible."