For a few moments after the finish at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 6 of the Tour de France on Thursday, Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) thought he had finished second on the stage and was also second in the overall classification, still a few seconds behind Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep). Then his day and his life got turned upside down in an instant, when it was confirmed he had taken the race leader's yellow jersey by six seconds thanks to the six-second time bonus he secured for second place on the stage.
"I wasn't happy to be second on the stage and also be told that I was second on the GC, too, but then I heard that I was in the yellow jersey. It was an unbelievable moment. This is my first Tour de France, but now everything has changed for me, " Ciccone explained, brimming with happiness in a bright, freshly ironed yellow jersey.
"To be honest, my goal was the stage, and I focused on that. We knew I lost a lot of time on the road and so I gave it all for the stage on the climb to the finish. Dylan Teuns was the strongest, and I was disappointed for stage result, but I was paid back for my efforts with the yellow jersey," he said.
"When I was boy I watched the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France on television, and so it feels so strange for me to be in yellow. I watched Contador and Schleck fight it out at the Tour and Nibali at the Giro d'Italia. I admire Purito Rodriguez too, for how he rode on the steep climbs."
Ciccone seemed in shock to be suddenly thrust in the global cycling spotlight, but he is one of the wonders of bike racing and the Tour de France.
Ciccone – a distant relative of singer Madonna due their shared Abruzzo roots – is still only 24 and only stepped up to WorldTour level this season with Trek-Segafredo after three seasons with Bardiani-CSF.
His climbing skills and quick-thinking race craft helped him win a Giro d'Italia stage in 2017, the 2018 Giro dell'Appennino and a stage at the 2017 Tour of Utah. But he came of age at this year's Giro d'Italia, where he went on the attack on virtually every mountain stage, chasing the blue king of the mountains jersey. He won it and the stage to Ponte di Legno, and that opened the door to place in the Trek-Segafredo team for the Tour de France.
"The Giro was my big goal, and I hadn't planned to ride the Tour de France. But seeing my form, we decided I'd help Richie and team and gain some experience too," he explained.
"We have a plan with one team leader, and we'll continue with that plan. That won't change now despite me in yellow.
"I want to honour the jersey, but Richie Porte is still our team leader. He has good condition, and Bauke Mollema too after the Giro. [Friday] is a flat stage, so we can enjoy a day in the yellow jersey and try to keep it, but the plan is same: to be there for Richie. I'm racing day by day and will continue to do that."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.