Ciccone climbs into podium game after epic queen stage

Trek-Segafredo came out swinging for a weather-shortened Stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia

The peloton awoke to rain on Monday morning of the Giro d’Italia’s 16th stage, touted as the most challenging of the 104th Giro d’Italia. When the riders and race organization agreed to shorten the queen stage, taking out two of the four Dolomites’ climbs, it lessened the difficulty of the parcours, but they couldn’t alleviate the weather. Despite a shortened race, it was an epic day and the general classification went through a shredder.

Some love racing in harsh weather conditions, and others loath it. One’s mental approach to a punishing day on the bike can be as important as having good legs, and Trek-Segafredo came into the day ready for theatrics.

Vincenzo Nibali rebounded from a fall in Stage 15 to lead the way, and when teammates Gianluca Brambilla and Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier joined him in an initial 24-rider breakaway early in the race, Act 1 was underway. “The pain in my ribs was minimal, fortunately, and it didn’t give me much trouble to breathe, which was my biggest fear,” said Nibali. “I started with the idea of attacking, getting into a breakaway, and going for the stage.”

The plot thickened as Nibali forced a split on the tricky descent after the first climb, leaving six men out front, including Ghebreigzabhier, who did the lion’s share of the work in keeping the breakaway group ahead.

As they approached the Passo Giau, a fatigued Ghebreigzabhier fell off the pace, leaving Nibali to combat the rest of the group on the climb.

“The front group was strong, and Amanuel did a great job supporting me. During the race, we knew that the peloton wouldn’t give us too much space. But it was right to try, to persevere,” he added.

In the chasing group behind, EF Education First had drastically reduced the gap to the breakaway. Under their searing pace, only a skeleton group of GC rivals remained, and by the top of Passo Giau, all remnants of the breakaway were swept aside as the GC fight took center stage.

“It was a stage with no time to breathe,” agreed Nibali. “The absence of Fedaia and Pordoi [climbs] made it less difficult in terms of altitude, but it was still very difficult. Such cold days, all day long in the rain, put everyone to the test.”

A test that Giulio Ciccone was ready for.

Ciccone, who has found himself in an unexpected GC fight in this year’s race, played a more calculated and conservative tactic than usual. As other rivals fell off the demanding pace, he continued to hold firm.

“Although the Giro was forced to revise the route, I think the spectacle was not lacking – it was an epic stage,” said Ciccone. “The new profile blew away any tactics we had from yesterday evening and made the day more explosive. The pace was strong from the start, but, of course, Passo Giau made the real difference.

“EF set an impressive pace, and from there it was a test of endurance, legs and head. I had good feelings all day, and this allowed me to manage my energy smartly.”

When Egan Bernal’s expected attack came, Cicco did not falter.  He crested the final climb in 4th place, the same position he crossed the line 17 kilometers later after a wet, treacherous descent.

While Bernal put a stronghold on winning this year’s Giro, behind him the classification went through some drastic changes. It will be a thrilling fight for the final podium steps in the last five stages to Milan, and Ciccone is well in the game.

“This is the aspect that makes me most satisfied today,” pointed out Ciccone, “I didn’t give in to the instinct to follow whoever was attacking and to accelerate even though I felt good, but I climbed at my own pace. Looking at the overall ranking now, it’s a choice that has paid off.”