Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) lost his Tour de France leader's yellow jersey to Julian Alaphilippe but found consolation in the best young rider's white jersey and the knowledge that he has earned a place in the Tour de France spotlight and has become Italy's most promising young stage racer.
The 24-year-old Italian was unable to go after Alaphilippe when he stormed away over the top of the Cote de la Jailiere, just 12km from the finish in Saint-Etienne but he kept his nerve and finished in the chase group, 20 seconds behind France's new cycling hero.
Alaphilippe timed-trialed with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) to the finish, gaining enough time to take back the yellow just in time for France to celebrate Bastille Day and French pride on Sunday, July 14.
Alaphilippe picked up five bonus seconds for passing the Cote de la Jailiere in second place behind lone attacker Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and another four second for taking third place on the stage behind De Gendt and Pinot.
Ciccone is now second overall, 23 seconds down on Alaphilippe, cruelly within in touching distance of yellow but aware that he is unlikely to get it back in the days ahead.
"It was a great day, a hard day and a disappointing day but I couldn't have done any better," Ciccone admitted sportingly, making a point of thanking his Trek-Segafredo team and especially Bauke Mollema for trying to chase down Alaphilippe.
"Alaphilippe did a huge ride and so deserved to take back yellow, I'm happy for him. I've still got the white and it's very important. Before the start of the Tour de France, it was a dream for me to wear it for a few days. After wearing the yellow jersey it seems a step down but it's not.
"I feel defeated but I need to remind myself what I've achieved: I'm 24, it's my first Tour de France and I'm supposed to just help my teammates and learn. But I've enjoyed my two days in yellow and now I'm in the white jersey. Nobody has died as we say in Italian and so I have to be happy."
Asked to describe new race leader Alaphilippe in one word, Ciccone chose an Italian word that needs no translation: Fenomeno.
"There's nothing you can do when Alaphilippe does those moves like that," he said in admiration. "Nothing I could have done and nothing anyone else could have done. Only Pinot was able to go with him but he's a phenomenon, too."
Italy's next great thing
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport reporter Ciro Scognamiglio, Ciccone is the first Italian rider to wear the best young rider's white jersey since Vincenzo Nibali 11 years ago. The Sicilian went on to win the Tour de France in 2014 and has won all three Grand Tours and become one of the greatest Italian riders of all time. Ciccone and Nibali will ride together at Trek-Segafredo in 2020 and many see similarities between the two riders, even if Ciccone has still to mature and prove his ability.
Nibali finished second overall at the Giro d'Italia but struggled on the Cote de la Jailiere. He was distanced and finished 4:25 behind De Gendt, slipping to 28th overall, 6:18 down on Alaphilippe. He will now try to chase stage victories. So will Ciccone
He first won a stage in the 2016 Giro d'Italia and won another and the blue king of the mountains jersey at this year's Corsa Rosa. In the winter of 2016, he underwent ablative heart surgery to resolve supraventricular tachycardia but his naturally aggressive style of racing and confidence make him a fighter.
"It's almost a relief not to have the yellow jersey on my shoulders but it's not the end of my Tour," Ciccone made clear.
"Now I'd love to win a stage because I've not gotten over my second place at La Planche des Belles Filles. Our first goal as a team is still to target the GC with Richie Porte but maybe there's still some space for me in this Tour de France."
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