Playing the waiting game proved the perfect tactic for Giulio Ciccone in the first summit finish of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, as the Italian racer captured both the stage win and the overall lead with a late charge for the line.
After Ineos Grenadiers had collectively laid down a searing pace on the short, punchy ascent of Alto de Pinos in the closing kilometres, Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), Thomas Gloag (Jumbo-Visma), Tao Geoghegan Hart and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) briefly all put daylight between themselves and a shattering peloton.
However, Ciccone’s ability to produce an extra turn of speed at the top of punchy climbs already netted him a two-day spell in the Tour de France lead back in 2019 when the race tackled La Planche des Belles Filles in the first week.
On the Vosges climb three years ago, although he claimed the Tour’s maillot jaune, Ciccone was outpowered for the stage win by Dylan Teuns. But on this occasion and albeit in a much lower profile race, after Ciccone blasted past Mikel Landa with 200 metres to go, he had enough space on his rivals both to throw his sunglasses away in celebration and to be sure both the day’s honours and the overall lead were his.
Fielding just five riders in Valenciana compared to most squads’ full roster of seven, Trek-Segafredo had, unsurprisingly, not been at all visible at the front of the peloton in the day-long chase through relentlessly rugged terrain of five breakaways, with Bahrain Victorious and Ineos Grenadiers doing the bulk of the spadework to bring them back under control. But Ciccone was there when it mattered, and he reaped the maximum benefits.
“It was a really hard stage, but I knew before the start that I was feeling good,” Ciccone, who now leads the overall race by four seconds on Geoghegan Hart and five on Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious), said afterwards.
“We only have five riders in the team here, so it’s [a question of] quality, not quantity, and we only raced in the finale.
“Also, Greg [Rast], my sports director, was always saying over the radio, ‘stay on the wheels, stay on the wheels, stay on the wheels’.
“So I waited until the last corner, and my feeling was good, I had good legs, and it was my first chance to win this season, so I’m really happy I could do it.”
While not a prolific winner, Ciccone has clinched three spectacular mountain stage victories in the Giro d’Italia and has shone brightly in early racing in other years, netting the Trofeo Laigueglia in 2020 and a stage of the Tour du Haut Var in 2019. Eighth overall in Valenciana last year, this is his first-ever career win in Spain.
“I had a really good winter, the first one I’ve ever had without any problems, so my condition is really at a good point. So we can enjoy the first victory and continue like this.”
Although Ciccone was the clear winner on Thursday, nine riders were classified at the same time as him, and the 28-year-old freely admitted that with another summit finish on Saturday, the Valenciana GC was far from settled.
“It’s still close, there are only five riders in the team, so we need to play it smart, and I think we’ll be able to control it,” he said.
“We’ll see what happens on the next climbs. I feel good, and for sure, we’ll put up a good fight.”