Giulio Ciccone's assault on the Polka Dot jersey was thrilling from start to finish
One look at Giulio Ciccone — all springy limbs and prankster’s smile — should tell he was born to hurl himself at mountains. No one at this year’s Tour de France attacked this year’s climbs with as much tactical noose or gleeful abandon. And that’s why he is wearing the Polka Dot jersey as the King of the Mountains at the most famous bike race in the world.
Ciccone secured the final points he needed on a raucous Stage 20 that featured six categorized climbs, five of which were Category 2 or 1. He and his Lidl-Trek teammates were on a mission to win the jersey from the start, with Mads Pedersen keeping the duo of Ciccone and Mattias Skjelmose safely at the front of the peloton and well positioned to win the first climb of the day, the Cat 2 Ballon d’Alsace. Ciccone and Skjelmose would go 1-2 on Stage 20’s first four climbs, in fact.
When Ciccone surmounted the Cat 3 Col de la Schlucht in first place, adding two points to his KOM total, losing the Polka Dot jersey became a mathematical impossibility, and he began to celebrate.
Teamwork has been the backbone of Lidl-Trek’s success throughout the Tour. It’s no surprise that Pedersen and Skjelmose were the first people Ciccone wanted to thank for helping him win one of the most iconic prizes in cycling.
“Today I need to say just thanks to my team and my teammates because I think they did something crazy,” Ciccone said after Stage 20. “I need to say thanks to all of the team because we started with one plan, and they did everything perfect.”
Winning the Polka Dot jersey was never going to be easy. The winner of the King of the Mountains winner had also been the Yellow Jersey winner for the last three years. But Ciccone bucked the trend to become the first King of the Mountains winner who didn’t also win the general classification since Romain Bardet in 2019. He did it on one of the most relentlessly up-and-down Tour courses ever. Not one stage passed without a categorized climb. By the end, Ciccone climbed more than 56,400 meters across three weeks.
Ciccone didn’t firmly have the Polka Dot jersey in his sights when he set out on Stage 1 in Bilbao. His primary objective was to win a stage, which he nearly did on Stage 5, when he finished second to Jai Hindley. His King of the Mountains campaign gradually took shape from there. Ciccone jumped to No. 2 on the standings that day. Then he took over the Polka Dot jersey for good on Stage 15 when he won the summit on the Col de la Croix Fry.
At the time, Ciccone wrote, “Whether for one day or everyday until Paris, wearing this prestigious jersey, which I have dreamed of since childhood, is an incredible emotion.”
From then on, Ciccone and Lidl-Trek were determined to do everything in their power to retain the kit. EF Education-EasyPost’s Neilson Powless and AG2R Citroën’s Felix Gall were both motivated and well-positioned to rip it from his shoulders. Vingegaard and a star-studded Jumbo-Visma squad would have been happy to snatch it in their attempt to steamroll the peloton. But with Skjelmose time-and-again lending him a wheel up the steepest gradients, Ciccone kept adding to his lead in the standings until Saturday, when finally no one could catch him.
“With guys like Pedersen and Skjelmose, when they want to do something, you need to take the wheel and go,” Ciccone said. “We had this plan. We were really fighting for more than a week. I think we needed everything to be perfect. And now we will enjoy it.”
The accomplishment is well deserved for a rider who has consistently been one of the best climbers in the world, but has struggled at times with injuries and bad luck ever since a breakout 2019 season. That year, Ciccone won the King of the Mountains jersey at the Giro d’Italia and held the yellow jersey for a stage in the Tour de France.
Outside of missing this year’s Giro due to Covid, Ciccone has had a fantastic 2023 both on and off the bike. He won a stage and the points classification at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. He won another stage at Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. And as a sign of things to come, Ciccone won the Queen Stage and the King of the Mountains classification at the Critérium du Dauphiné just three weeks before the start of the Tour.
On top of all that, he got married to the love of his life.
The celebrations were long overdue. Ciccone is one of cycling’s great showmen. A rider who stands out at least as much as the garish-but-beloved kit currently resting on his shoulders.
The King of the Mountains sometimes feels like an oddball among the Tour de France’s many traditions. It’s one of the most physically demanding classifications to win by its very nature, and the Tour’s famous cols often provide the best setpieces of the entire three-week race. But KOM competitions can also feel like an afterthought at times, especially when a well-supported GC contender simply runs away with the prize.
Ciccone didn’t let that happen. He made sure that this year’s KOM competition was appointment viewing by riding with the audacity, panache and passion befitting his kit. His performance, in our admittedly biased opinion, perfectly described the magic of the Tour de France, combining individual strength and will with pitch perfect teamwork to create a legend.
There was no better man to be crowned the King of the Mountains than Giulio Ciccone. Long may he reign.