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Grand tour crossroads for Giulio Ciccone

Budding Italian star to see GC leadership for first time at Vuelta a España.

Giulio Ciccone has been tap-dancing near the spotlight of stardom for the past few seasons.

The 26-year-old climbing sensation has won stages at the Giro d’Italia and worn the yellow jersey at the 2019 Tour de France. And for the first time, he will see the might of the Trek-Segafredo team support him in a full-on GC press at the Vuelta a España.

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So how does Ciccone see himself? A swashbuckling attacker and stage-hunter, or as a patient, disciplined GC contender?

Ciccone hopes a bit of both.

“I will need to change my approach for the Vuelta. If you only go for a stage or a jersey, you can give all. For the GC, you need to conserve. But if I am there, I will try something,” he said with a smile. “I will not always stay on the wheel.”

After a rough 2020 campaign that included a COVID-19 diagnosis that kept him out of Tirreno-Adriatico, an early exit from the Giro with bronchitis, and post-season nasal surgery to improve his breathing, Ciccone remains optimistic about 2021.

The Vuelta leadership will be a milestone for Ciccone, who joined the WorldTour with Trek-Segafredo in 2019 after turning pro with Bardiani-CSF. Known for his aggressive and daring style, Ciccone said he’s been taking mental notes from teammates Vincenzo Nibali and Bauke Mollema.

“I’ve learned a lot from Nibali. I learned to be quiet out of the race. I am always full-gas,” he said in a video call with media. “Mollema is the same. Vincenzo always tries to be happy even when things are not going well.”

Ciccone will race as wingman to the experienced duo at the Giro. Both will race the Tour, while Ciccone will prepare for a first shot as a protected rider during the Vuelta. He’s posted a top-5 overall as a realistic challenge in typically what is a climber-friendly grand tour.

“After the Vuelta, I will make some decisions about my career. It is my first time trying with the GC. I will make a decision after the Vuelta,” Ciccone said Monday. “First I will see if I can do it.”

If Ciccone leaves the Vuelta encouraged by his GC aspirations, it could open a new chapter in his career. There is a void in Italian cycling right now among grand tour contenders, and Ciccone would fit the bill.

With the Italian tifosi clamoring for a new GC star to call their own, Ciccone checks off a lot of boxes. He’s aggressive and dynamic on the bike, and engaging and open off of it. With the sun setting on the Nibali era, and the heir apparent Fabio Aru seemingly mired in setbacks and injury, there is certainly room at the top.

“I don’t feel the pressure, but for sure it is a big responsibility,” Ciccone said. “I am still young, and I have a lot of opportunity to improve.”

With his climbing credentials already confirmed, he admits he needs to work on time trialing to round out his GC skillset. His explosive style also positions him well to win races like Il Lombardia — he was fifth in 2020 — or other one hilly one-day races. He opened 2020 with a victory at Trofeo Laigueglia.

Giulio Ciccone donning the yellow jersey
Giulio Ciccone wore the yellow jersey in the 2019 Tour de France. Photo: Jame Startt

At 26, he admits that the time has arrived to take the next step. Though he’s only entering his third season at the WorldTour in 2021, he is also conscious there are some younger riders already pressing.

“These young guys have already won some big races. Pogačar, Bernal, and Evenepoel are at a high level. I am at another level, a bit lower,” he said. “I also believe I can improve. It seems that the age to win the Tour de France is 21 or something. I’m older, but I am only 26. I am sure I can get better.”

Like any good Italian, he said his ultimate goal is to wear the maglia rosa. Ideally, it would be in the final stage as the Giro’s overall winner. He’s already had a taste of what it means to lead a grand tour, when he wore the maillot jaune for two days in the 2019 Tour after narrowly missing the stage victory.

“I prefer the yellow jersey,” he said. “The stage is hard to take, but I will have more chances to win a Tour stage. The yellow jersey is the best any rider can aim for. Now I think I am very happy to have it.”

Preliminary 2021 racing schedule

  • Volta a Valenciana
  • Volta ao Algarve
  • Tirreno-Adriatico
  • Giro d’Italia
  • Vuelta a España