Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) savoured his first day in the Tour de France leader's yellow jersey on the stage 7 road to Chalon-sur-Saone and made it clear he was ready for any attacks from Julian Alaphilippe during Saturday's hilly stage to Saint-Etienne.
The 24-year-old Italian is riding his first Tour de France and was thrust into the spotlight after finishing second on stage 6 to La Planche des Belle Filles. He managed to snatch yellow from Alaphilippe by just six seconds and knows that all of France is hoping their latest national cycling hero will take back yellow during Bastille weekend.
Yet Ciccone is up for a fight in an attempt to defend the yellow jersey.
Saturday's 200km stage 8 has short but painful climbs, with eight, five and two bonus second awarded at the summit of the penultimate climb just 12.5km from the finish. Ten, six and four seconds are also awarded to the first three riders on the stage in Saint-Etienne.
"It's only right France want Alaphilippe in yellow. He's the favourite, the stage is very suited to him and a six-second gap is nothing. But the Tour de France is very strange and anything can happen," Ciccone warned, clearly unruffled by Alaphilippe's recent palmares and the support of home crowd.
"My form is good, the team is strong and united. I'll sleep well tonight and if goes well or not I'll be happy."
Savouring a first day in yellow at the Tour de France
Ciccone was grateful that stage 7 was raced at a steady pace, with the sprinters' team keeping in check the two-rider attack by Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis) and Yoann Offredo (Wanty Gobert). It allowed him to savour his moment in cycling's most prestigious leader's jersey.
"It's difficult to explain what I felt because riding a stage at the Tour de France in yellow is just incredible. It was all very special. It was a quiet day until the last 30km, so I could really enjoy it for 200km," he explained.
Ciccone revealed that an ice-cream parlour had created a special yellow-flavoured ice cream in his hometown of Chieti in southern Abruzzo region. His 'Geco' nickname was also revised due to his climbing skills being much like that of the little lizard that often climbs Italian walls. He also revealed that he has tried cyclo-cross in the past but "spent more on the ground than in the saddle."
Welcoming Nibali to Trek-Segafredo in 2020
Ciccone may have the yellow jersey but he has made it clear he is in France to work for Trek-Segafredo team leader Richie Porte once the decisive mountains begin and when his tine in the yellow jersey ends. In 2020, Vincenzo Nibali will also join the American-registered WorldTour team, adding further stage race talent to the team.
Ciccone knows Nibali well and was enthusiastic about his arrival, even if under UCI rules, the news cannot officially be confirmed until August 1. Trek-Segafredo press officer Elke Weylandt carefully tweaked Ciccone answer when she translated his Italian into English, adding some 'if' and 'when'.
However Ciccone's enthusiasm about riding with Nibali in 2020 was yet another informal confirmation of the Sicilian's move from Bahrain-Merida to Trek-Segafredo.
"For sure it'll be fantastic," Ciccone said, his emotions of being yellow perhaps causing him to forget the UCI rules.
"Vincenzo is a friend. He's the best rider there is for Grand Tours and stage races, so he'll be great teacher for me, I'm lucky to be with him next season."
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