By Julien Pretot
LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES, France (Reuters) – Giulio Ciccone reached his season’s goal when he won the Maglia Azzurra (blue) for the mountains classification at the Giro d’Italia, but little did he know that there was much more to come.
The bonus came in the form of the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, a race that did not feature on his schedule.
“My big objective of the season was the Giro, I was not supposed to ride the Tour,” the 24-year-old told reporters after his second place in the sixth stage gave him the overall lead for six seconds.
“But my form of the moment earned me a place in the starting lineup.”
The Trek-Segafredo rider, who already has two Giro stage wins to his name after one this year and another in 2016, quickly overcame the disappointment of losing to Belgian Dylan Teuns for the stage win after crossing the line 11 seconds later after a 160.5-km ride, most of it in the day’s breakaway.
“They first told me I was second overall,” he explained after starting the day 1:43 behind France’s Julian Alaphilippe in the general classification.
But an eight-second bonus for being first at top of the penultimate climb, the Col des Chevreres, and another six seconds for his second place meant that he moved past Alaphilippe as he ended up 1:35 behind at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles.
“Then I was told I was first (in GC) so I quickly forgot about finishing the stage second,” added Ciccone, who describes himself as a “very quiet guy, on and off the bike.”
Ciccone grew up watching Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck fight it out in the mountains on the Tour de France, as well as admiring his compatriot Vincenzo Nibali and Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez for his climbing style.
“Now it feels strange to be here with the yellow jersey myself,” added Ciccone, who hails from the Abbruzzo region.
Now that he has exceeded his own expectations, Ciccone is turning his sights to his day job on the Tour — helping Australian Richie Porte become an overall contender again after crashing out in the last two editions.
“My task on the Tour de France was to gain experience and help Richie so that’s what I’m going to do now,” he said.
Porte, who finished fifth overall in 2016, finished the stage in 11th place, 1:53 behind Teuns but only nine seconds behind defending champion Geraint Thomas.
He lies 21st overall, 1:07 adrift of Thomas, the best placed among the GC contenders.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)