It wasn’t quite the passing of the torch, but the Colle Passerino offered some indications of Trek-Segafredo’s approach to this Giro d’Italia. Just as Vincenzo Nibali was beginning to flag towards the rear of the group of favourites, his teammate Giulio Ciccone was handed the freedom to go on the offensive.
As recently as last October, when Nibali’s leadership was absolute, Ciccone would surely have been delegated to stay with the Sicilian on this, the first general classification skirmish of the Giro. With Nibali still feeling his way back into action after breaking his wrist in training last month, however, Ciccone has a greater degree of latitude.
After testing the waters in the Langhe on Monday, Ciccone was again on the attack in the Apennines, and nearer the top of the final climb, he was joined by the day’s strongmen: Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious). That elite group rode together to the finish in Sestola, coming in 1:37 down on stage winner and early escapee Joe Dombrowski (UAE Team Emirates).
Nibali, meanwhile, had to fend for himself in a group that included Jai Hindley (Team DSM), Domenico Pozzovivo (Qhubeka-Assos) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe). The group came home 34 seconds down on Ciccone, Bernal et al.
Constant rain allied to rugged terrain made this a robust early test of GC credentials. In years past, Nibali might have viewed coughing up half a minute at this point of the Giro as a minor catastrophe. Given that he only got the all-clear to ride the Giro five days before the race began, he was able to place his performance in perspective. The two-time winner is, for the first time in over a decade, an outsider in his home race.
“It was a hard day for me, I won’t hide that I suffered,” Nibali said.
“I had to defend myself and, seeing how it went, I’m quite satisfied. In fact I think today could have gone worse for me. It was the first hard stage of the Giro and I still limited my losses. We’ll hang tough and keeping looking ahead.”
In the overall standings, Nibali now lies 25th, 2:11 down the pink jersey of Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation), and 54 seconds off Vlasov, the best-placed of the pre-race favourites. Ciccone, meanwhile, has risen to 18th, 1:56 behind De Marchi.
Five years ago, Ciccone scored a break-out victory at Sestola, but in purely athletic terms, he might have surpassed the achievement by matching Landa, Bernal and company after they bridged across.
The Abruzzo native described himself as Trek-Segafredo’s ‘joker in the pack’ ahead of the Giro. Minor tendinitis forced him to miss the Tour of the Alps in the build-up, but he has not looked off the pace thus far.
“I said it already, I don’t have much to lose and I want to follow my feelings a bit,” said Ciccone.
“I needed some responses after more than a month away from racing. I felt like I wanted to attack and today I went with my instincts.”
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