Ciccone: Fighting it out with Bernal and Evenepoel shows the bar has been raised

Giulio Ciccone (Trek - Segafredo) at the 2021 Giro d'Italia
Giulio Ciccone (Trek - Segafredo) at the 2021 Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Giulio Ciccone's 2022 race programme is a mirror of his stand-out 2019 campaign, and after a frustrating 2021, the Italian hoping to use his talents to rediscover the results of the past. 

Both by his own reckoning and per the numbers on his power meter, the Trek-Segafredo rider reached his best level yet in 2021, but crashes at both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España prevented him from translating raw data into tangible results over three weeks.

In 2022, Ciccone will aim to confirm those impressions of progress when he lines out at the Giro and Tour de France. Although 16th overall at the 2019 Giro remains his best placing in a Grand Tour, his displays through the opening two weeks of this year’s corsa rosa convinced him of the merits of exploring his general classification prospects in a more concerted manner.

“This was my best year in terms of numbers but in 2019, I was only racing for stages and I was able to sacrifice everything else, so maybe I seemed stronger to outsiders,” Ciccone said from Trek-Segafredo’s training camp in Altea, Spain. 

“This year I was in the top five up to the last few days of the Giro, so overall I was much stronger in 2021. I know my work was good and I saw I could go well in stage races.”

Although a communique from Trek-Segafredo on Tuesday suggested that the Italian and his co-leader Bauke Mollema would focus on hunting stage wins at both the Giro and the Tour, Ciccone acknowledged that in the Italian Grand Tour, at least, he would set out with an eye to the general classification.

“Honestly, the route of the Giro is more suited to my characteristics, with very few time trial kilometres, and with harder stages,” Ciccone said. 

“We don’t know the field yet but, generally speaking, it’s more complicated to aim for the GC at the Tour because of the overall level. But we’ll decide that as we go along. The objective is to get back to winning, and then along the way we’ll see if it’s better to think about the GC or stage wins.”

Ciccone will start his season at the Volta a la Comunitant Valenciana, and Tirreno-Adriatico and the Ardennes Classics will also feature on his schedule before the Giro gets underway in Budapest on May 6.

With his erstwhile teammate Vincenzo Nibali now in the twilight of his career at Astana Qazaqstan, Ciccone can expect to shoulder a greater portion of home hopes at the 2022 Giro, particularly given his effervescent start to this year’s race, where he found himself in direct confrontation with eventual winner Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) on early summit finishes at San Giacomo and Campo Felice. Although Ciccone took heart from those displays, he is also mindful that a select band of riders seem to place something of a cap on the ambitions of the rest of the peloton in three-week races.

“It’s important to do say that we’re going through a period where there are riders of very high level and phenomenal riders like Pogačar, Roglič and Bernal, who really have something more. That has to be recognised,” Ciccone said.

“You have to be realistic and see where you can actually go, without aiming too high. I’m realistic. I was up there in the top five at the Giro for a long time without having invested in the time trial, without having taken care of many details, and without having started the race as a leader. So maybe I could dream of the podium, but it depends on the circumstances, on the other riders present, on lots of different things.”

Vincenzo Nibali: friend or foe?

Ciccone turns 27 next week, December 20, and the Abruzzo native, by his reckoning, still has margin for improvement. Unlike the emerging generation of professionals, who seemingly arrive ready in the WorldTour having been hot-housed through the junior and under-23 ranks, Ciccone believes his progression to have been a slower burning process.

“When I look back to when I was a junior, I was a normal lad who still went to the beach. I wasn’t already living the life of a professional like the younger generation do now,” Ciccone said. 

“Now the stages of development have been shortened, but I had more of a traditional path. I turned pro in 2016, and between then and now, I’ve completely changed from a physical point of view. So now I’m looking forward to next three years, where I could be at my best.”

In any case, he will certainly hope for better fortune than the past two seasons. He began 2020 on a high with victory at the Trofeo Laigueglia, but he never hit the same heights after the hiatus for the first lockdown, testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of Tirreno-Adriatico. Although he started the Giro that October, he was a shadow of himself and abandoned ahead of stage 14. His fast start at the 2021 Giro was undone by a crash on the road to Sega di Ala in the final week, and another fall would force him out of the Vuelta.

“This is going to be an important year for me because I’m coming off two difficult seasons, even if 2021 wasn’t a disappointment in terms of performance, it’s just that the results were missing,” said Ciccone.

While 2019, with its Giro stage victory and stint in yellow on the Tour, was the high point of his career to date, this season wasn’t an annus horribilis in the manner of 2020.

“I could see my development in my numbers but also in the way that I rode. I was able to contest stages of the Giro with the GC riders, like at Campo Felice, and make some attacks in head-to-head confrontations with them,” Ciccone said. “Before, in order to win, I was obliged to go in the break, so that’s a big difference. Being up there and fighting it out for stage wins with the GC riders like Bernal or [Remco] Evenepoel, that confirms that the bar has been raised.”

Last May, Ciccone described himself as the ‘joker’ in Trek-Segafredo’s pack at the Giro, but his status has been changing ever since. In the aftermath of the race, he began working more assiduously on his time trialling, while his fellow Abruzzese Dario Cataldo, whose father Michele was one of Ciccone’s first coaches, has been added as a climbing domestique for the new season.

The biggest change of all, of course, is that Nibali is no longer at the team, leaving Ciccone with greater responsibility in the Grand Tours. The Italian pairing never quite added up to the sum of their parts over their two years together at Trek-Segafredo – and they even trod on one another’s toes at the Italian championships last June – but Ciccone maintains that they weren’t helped by circumstances.

 “Let’s say that they were two strange years, because Vincenzo was going through, I think, the two most difficult years of his career, and so was I, between COVID-19 and the crashes,” Ciccone said. 

“It’s a pairing that didn’t work very well for various reasons. But I still have a good relationship with him, and he taught me how to stay calm during a stage race.” 

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