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Success at the Tour de France can forge careers, and that’s just what happened for the two best men from the day’s 14-rider breakaway on Stage 6, finishing atop la Planche des Belles Filles.
On a day that was slotted as the Tour’s first true GC battle, it was a pair of Tour debutants riding in the breakaway who enjoyed the greatest success. Belgian Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) won the stage 11 seconds ahead of Italian Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), however Ciccone moved into the yellow jersey.
In an instant, both men had achieved career-best moments.
“The yellow jersey was my childhood dream,” Ciccone said. “Today I made it come true. It’s a beautiful achievement. It’s hard to believe. My goal and our team’s goal was to win the stage. I was pissed off that I lost the stage win but when I realized that I had the yellow jersey, the feeling of anger passed straight away. It’s wonderful.”
Both riders had previously tasted success this season. Ciccone won a stage at the Giro d’Italia in May and spent all but one day in the KOM jersey, which he won by a large margin. Teuns won a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné last month, hist first victory since August 2017.
But neither had ridden the Tour de France, let alone stood on the podium.
Though it came somewhat unconventionally in the first week, Stage 6 was a legitimate mountain stage, with seven categorized climbs across the Vosges, finishing atop the 7km climb up la Planche des Belles Filles.
After they dispatched breakaway companions Serge Pauwels (CCC) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) on the lower slopes of the final steep climb, it was a two-man battle against each another, against the mountain, and against a chasing peloton.
Teuns, 27, turned pro in 2014 and joined Bahrain-Merida after four seasons spent at BMC Racing. He finished second on a similar steep mountaintop finish at the Vuelta a España last year to breakaway companion Michael Woods (EF Education First). He learned from that experience, he said, and this time, he timed his jump to perfection.
“It was really a man-to-man fight,” Teuns said. “I had him where I wanted him, going into the last kilometer, he was in front of me. It was a bit nervous in the last 500 meters for me, I was the same situation as I was in the Vuelta with Michael Woods. There I made some mistakes because I was nervous. This time I kept calm and I made the right decision at the right moment, and I finished it off. It was amazing.”
The stage win came as a bit of consolation for Bahrain-Merida, whose leader Vincenzo Nibali lost 51 seconds to defending champion Geraint Thomas, the best-placed finisher of the GC contenders.
“It’s unbelievable,” Teuns said. “I knew since the Dauphiné that I was in good shape, but to win at the Tour de France already this week is incredible. I didn’t expect to win here, although I knew there was a chance for the breakaway to succeed today. I took my opportunity.
“In the second-last climb, the four strongest came out from the breakaway. I knew Ciccone was the main guy. I’m so happy I finished it off. At the bottom of a climb, I saw my mum, my dad and my girlfriend. It brought me a lot of emotions.”
Ciccone, 24, joined Trek-Segafredo this year after spending his first three professional seasons with the Italian Pro Continental team Bardiani-CSF. He’s won five races in his career, including a Giro stage in his neo-pro season in 2016, and a stage at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah the following year.
His stint in the yellow jersey, which could last until Stage 12 a week from now, won’t be registered as a victory, but it will land him in the history books and give his Trek-Segafredo team maximum exposure on a global stage.
“The Giro was my first goal of the year, but as I came out of it with a great condition, we decided with the team that I’d do the Tour as well, for experience at the age of 24,” Ciccone said. “I started even better than we imagined. We have a strong team to defend the jersey even though flat stages at the Tour de France are hard as well.”
Ciccone explained that while the team would work to defend the maillot jaune, his time in yellow doesn’t change their overall objectives with GC leader Richie Porte.
“For sure, in the plan we have only one leader,” Ciccone said. “That is Richie. We continue with this plan. Richie has a good condition, also Bauke [Mollema] is good after the Giro, we will see in the next stages. Tomorrow, we have a flat stage and we will try to keep this. But in the plan we have Richie. He’s super strong now, we’ll work for him.”
In the days and weeks to come, Teuns may be riding for Nibali and Ciccone may be riding for Porte, but on Thursday in the Vosges, both men were enjoying the biggest moment of their respective young careers.