Perhaps the controlled environment was designed to contain expectations. Giulio Ciccone, Italy’s best-placed rider as the Giro d’Italia approaches its midpoint, was not made available for a rest day press conference. Instead, he relayed his thoughts on the progress of his race by way of a video released by his Trek-Segafredo team late on Tuesday afternoon.
Ten days into the Giro, Ciccone lies in fourth place overall, 37 seconds off the pink jersey of Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers). The Abruzzo native arrived here insisting that he had something of a free role, with few thoughts to the general classification, and he rode in that manner in the opening days, attacking on the road to Canale, Sestola and San Giacomo.
With each passing day, however, it became increasingly clear that Ciccone was climbing just about as well as anyone else in the race, and he eventually tempered his aggression accordingly. At Campo Felice on Sunday, he waited for the gravel finale, where he was the best of the rest behind Bernal’s searing acceleration. Even before that stage, his stable-mate Vincenzo Nibali – 16th at 2:13 – had effectively endorsed him for the role of team leader.
Ciccone, however, appears keen to shrug off the full weight of that responsibility, at least for the time being. In his rest day video release, as at Campo Felice on Sunday, the 26-year-old couched his lofty status on GC as something close to an unexpected bonus.
“I have no pressure because it’s been agreed with the team that I came to the Giro with other objectives,” Ciccone said. “Everything that’s happening now isn’t a bonus exactly, but it’s something new. We’ll take things as they come, and then whether it’s good or bad, it’s not a problem for me or the team. We’re living it with serenity and we’ve living it day by day. As long as we’re up there, it’s good, but if something goes wrong, we won’t have lost anything because it wasn’t our objective.”
Such equivocation at a Grand Tour comes with an expiry date. Ciccone acknowledged that if he remained in the upper reaches of the general classification after the summit finish on the Zoncolan on Saturday, he would endeavour to stay there until Milan.
“There are a lot of mountains to come,” he said. “Personally, I’m waiting until the Zoncolan to understand things better. After the Zoncolan, I can understand what the situation really is and in what direction I can go.”
In his career to date, Ciccone has never finished higher than 16th overall in a Grand Tour, but he has shown his aptitude in the high mountains, most notably when he won over the Mortirolo on the 2019 Giro. He has been climbing strongly here, too, even if the mountains scaled to date bear scant comparison with the sheer volume of ascents to come in the final week.
“In terms of sensations, the stage to Campo Felice was a good stage for me. It gave me awareness of my condition,” said Ciccone, who had missed the Tour of the Alps in the build-up after suffering a knee injury at the Volta a Catalunya.
“But in all the uphill finishes so far, I’ve had good sensations up to now, so I can certainly be very happy with my first part of the Giro.”
Just under a minute separates the top nine riders on GC after 10 stages, but the race could take on very different complexion after Wednesday’s full-throated journey through the vineyards of Montalcino, which features 35km of gravel road in the final 70km of racing.
Positioning will be crucial before the first, downhill sector of gravel, and luck might play a part too, but with 2,500 metres of climbing and some steep ramps in the finale, it will also be an examination of strength.
“Tomorrow is a very special day. A day like that in the middle of a Grand Tour can condition the whole race. But beyond having luck, you really need the legs. There will certainly be pitfalls. It’s a day that can smile on you, but it can also take away all the good things you’ve done to now," Ciccone said.
Nibali, meanwhile, limited himself to a statement published by his Trek-Segafredo team. His race has been conditioned by the broken wrist he suffered in training in mid-April, but he has at least limited his losses on the uphill finishes thus far.
The Montalcino stage, where he lost the pink jersey after a crash in 2010, will reveal more about his future prospects, though the Sicilian reiterated his view on the current hierarchy. “Ciccone is proving to be in great condition,” Nibali said. “He deserves trust and support.”
Whether he wants it or not, the parcel is in Ciccone’s hands now.
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