Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) won stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia after firing off an exhausting string of accelerations on the final climb to Cogne that left former breakaway companions scrambling to limit their losses.
The 22-year-old Italian made the decisive move with 18km to go, riding away from Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) on the category 2 climb’s steeper gradients.
After Ciccone established a strong 1:33 lead on Buitrago, who caught and passed a drained Carthy moments after the Italian went up the road, his race win was never in question.
The emotional Trek-Segafredo rider had time to celebrate his third win at the Giro d’Italia after a frustrating three years of personal disappointment. Buitrago took second at 1:31, and Antonio Pedrero (Movistar Team) was third at 2:19.
“The steep part of the climb was at the beginning, in my mind I say, ‘OK, if I go alone here I can arrive alone,’” Ciccone said after the stage. “Otherwise, with two of three riders, you never know what can happen. I tried here today because my legs were really good. It was the best choice that I made.
“I think this has been my most beautiful victory, even better than the yellow jersey at the tour de France. This has an indescribable value for me,” Ciccone said.
Despite crashing earlier in the stage, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) finished the stage to retain the pink jersey ahead of the second rest day. The Ecuadorian leads the maglia rosa competition seven seconds ahead of Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and 30 seconds in front of best young rider João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates).
Meanwhile, Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) snatches the maglia azzurra lead from Diego Rosa (Eolo-Kometa) after taking 40 points on the first climb of the day.
How it unfolded
After the 4.6km neutral section, Matthew Holmes (Lotto Soudal) was the first to attack the peloton of 159 riders and, interestingly, was trailed by an active Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ).
They were quickly brought back, and more attacks followed before a touch of wheels caused a mid-pack pile-up involving the maglia rosa, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), at kilometre six. However, it didn’t take long for Ineos to escort their race leader back into the bunch.
The attempts to get up the road didn’t let up, and familiar breakaway names Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates), Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal) and Clément Davy (Groupama-FDJ) made a jump that gained some momentum for a few kilometres, but that too was eventually defused with 160km to go.
The mounting fatigue of the last two weeks of racing was evident as teams like Jumbo-Visma and Astana Qazaqstan Team and Israel-Premier Tech continued to send riders up the road, but nothing materialized until kilometre 40 when Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto Soudal), Andrea Vendrame (Ag2r Citroën) and Anthony Perez (Cofidis) found some daylight between themselves and the peloton. The bunch didn’t give in on this group easily and held the five riders at just 20 seconds for about 15km before shutting it down with 115km to go.
Things started settling down after Thymen Arensman (Team DSM), Merhawi Kudus (EF Education-EasyPost), Rémy Rochas (Cofidis), Erik Fetter (Eolo-Kometa) and Lawson Craddock (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) took off with 100km to go and a large group of 22 eventually bridged across.
There was no real threat to the GC riders within the escapees, with Arensman the best placed at almost 12 minutes down. However, motivated stage hunters like Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Mathieu Van Der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) were present, adding an extra impetus to the group.
With the responsibility resting on Ineos to set the pace in the peloton, the gap grew to 4:30 by the time the break reached the bottom of the first climb, Pila-Les Fleurs (Cat. 1).
Stuck in no man’s land for quite a few kilometres, José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar Team) eventually made it across to the break when the road pitched up for the first time, making it a group of 28.
Noticing the break was getting too comfortable with its pace up the first climb, van der Poel launched an attack that was marked by Bouwman, hungry to claim the KOM jersey from Diego Rosa (Eolo-Kometa Cycling Team). The move dropped Julius van den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost) and Craddock and boosted the gap to almost four minutes.
Not wanting to leave the KOM points to chance, Bouwman struck out solo with 3km to the top of Pila-Les Fleurs, gained a minute on his chasers and easily collected the 40 points on offer at the summit. The effort put him back in the maglia azzurra ahead of Rosa. Meanwhile, Ineos led the peloton over the top of the climb almost five minutes behind.
Bouwman kept the pressure on over the top of the climb, which sparked a chase from van der Poel and Martijn Tusveld (Team DSM). They made the junction with 60km remaining, and the Dutch trio worked together to build up a maximum of 1:34 on their former breakaway companions by the time they started the second climb.
Back in the chase group, Kudus put the pressure on to catch the leaders while successfully shaking off some of the weaker riders for teammate Carthy. The former Eritrean national champion brought the chase group down to eight riders before pulling off.
The climbers battle for the stage
Ciccone then kept the pace high and pushed away with Buitrago on his wheel. Pedrero was able to latch on to the back of the move, but Carthy found himself incapable of matching Ciccone’s speed and lagged a few metres behind.
It didn’t take long for Ciccone, Buitrago and Pedrero to bridge across to the Dutch leaders, who lost Bouwman halfway up the climb. Ciccone attacked the front group several times, distancing van der Poel, and later Tusveld, with six kilometres of climbing left up Verrogne.
Buitrago, Ciccone and Pedrero continued to work together as the climb pressed on. Thirty seconds behind, a chase group formed with Carthy, Tusveld and Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates).
Carthy accelerated out of the chase group to catch the leaders by the time they reached the summit with 40km to go. Ciccone led the group up and over Verrogne to take the 40 points in the KOM competition.
Despite Ciccone’s multiple accelerations, Costa and Tusveld eventually caught the leaders at the tail end of the descent to make it a group of six up the road with 25km to go.
A feisty Ciccone attacked yet again at the base of the final climb, cracking Tusveld, Costa and Pedrero. Buitrago fell off the pace soon after, and with 20km to go, it was a two-up battle between Carthy and Ciccone.
Ciccone fired another acceleration with 18km to go, and Carthy couldn’t respond. The 22-year-old Italian gained more than a minute, while behind, Carthy and Buitrago were left to lick their wounds.
The Italian rode like an unstoppable force the remainder of the climb, putting a minute and 30 seconds into Buitrago, who caught and passed a fading Carthy. Buitrago ended up taking second, and Pedrero third another 2:19 behind Ciccone’s winning time. Carthy came home in fourth place.
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