Can Giulio Ciccone fill the GC-leader-sized hole at Trek-Segafredo?
As of the first rest day at the 2021 Giro d’Italia, the top three on the general classification is somewhat expected, and possibly not surprising: Egan Bernal (Ineos-Grenadiers), Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech). The young Italian who sits in fourth, however, is not someone many would have predicted.
After coming to the Giro with both Bauke Mollema and Vincenzo Nibali, the top rider for Trek-Segafredo after 10 stages is actually Giulio Ciccone. Now only 36 seconds off the GC lead of Bernal, Ciccone crossed the line second on the uphill gravel finish of stage 9, the second strongest rider on the day.
In a pre-season press release, Trek-Segafredo hinted that Ciccone would take on a GC leader role later in the season at the Vuelta a España and would attend the Giro to learn from Nibali and Mollema. The first bump in the road was when Nibali crashed in training and fractured his wrist. The accident took place in mid-April, so Nibali’s pre-Giro preparations required some alterations.
Mollema had a very strong start to the 2021 season. He won the opening stage of Tour de Alpes Maritimes et du Var and the Italian one-day Trofeo Laigueglia. After placing second at GP Industria & Artigianato his season started to take a dive. Itzulia Basque Country did not go as planned and his best result before the start of the Giro was eighth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Mollema has never quite delivered a huge Grand Tour result, despite being very close. In 2016 he was sitting second in the general classification of the Tour de France until stage 19 where he crashed out of contention. In 2019 he finished the Giro d’Italia fifth overall, his best Grand Tour result since joining Trek-Segafredo in 2015.
Nibali was second at the Giro in 2019 and second at the Vuelta in 2017 but the last time he won a Grand Tour was the 2016 Giro d’Italia. At 36 years old it’s hard not to wonder if his best Grand Tour GC days are behind him. To win the Giro this year he would already have to find over two minutes. Not completely out of the question but also hard to imagine based on how he’s looked so far in the race.
Trek-Segafredo finally hit some luck in the Grand Tour hunt with Richie Porte at the 2020 Tour de France. Porte landed the team its first Grand Tour GC podium since Chris Horner won the Vuelta in 2013. When Porte left Trek-Segafredo at the end of 2020 it was only Mollema and Nibali left to take over the GC grind.
Enter Giulio Ciccone.
This Giro experience may be Ciccone’s first with the general classification at a Grand Tour, but it’s not like no one saw this coming. In 2019 Ciccone won the mountain classification at the Giro and finished 16th overall. Later that year he led the Tour de France for two stages. True, he’s never actually won a general classification, but for the last week, he’s sure looked capable of competing for one.
The real tests are still to come, especially the final stage ITT. Ciccone lost almost a minute in the opening stage time trial to Filippo Ganna and 37 seconds to Evenepoel.
On the climbs, Ciccone is looking prime to match, or at least hang on to, Bernal. Stage 6 and 9 are proof of that. Ciccone’s attacking nature and drive to animate the race will make his bid for pink a fun one to watch as the mountain stages loom.
If, at the end of the Giro, Ciccone lands himself on or even within spitting distance of the podium, Trek-Segafredo will be thrilled. Rumours of Nibali’s departure from the team and the loss of Porte would leave the team down a lot of firepower. Luckily the American outfit will not lose Ciccone any time soon. They already announced in early March (in entertaining fashion) that he would remain with Trek-Segafredo through 2024.
At only 26 years of age, Ciccone has time to learn the tricks of the GC trade. So even if, heaven forbid, something goes wrong in the final 11 stages of the Giro, Ciccone will still line up at the Vuelta a España as one to watch. Likewise at other Grand Tours beyond that.