Ciccone 3rd in final mountain stage, secures blue jersey

Bauke Mollema arrives with the leading GC contenders and defends his 5th place ahead of a final time trial.

Giulio Ciccone could have ridden out stage 20 in the gruppetto as the Maglia Azzurra was already secured ahead of the final mountains barring any misfortune, but the young Italian was again racing off the front and fighting for another win in this year’s Giro d’Italia.

In the end, he fell short of victory but came away with a third place in the toughest stage of this year’s race. After leading the mountains competition from day one – ceding it only for one stage to teammate Gianluca Brambilla – and winning stage 16, Ciccone definitely has put his mark on the 102nd Giro.

I am very happy for this Giro, for the team and for me. Tomorrow is the last day in Verona, and I will enjoy the day as much as I can with all the people.

Stage 20 started with a big fight and Trek-Segafredo missed out on the initial 12-rider breakaway. With the pace never relinquishing in the bunch, the break was caught on the descent of the Passo Manghen, the second major climb of the day, and immediately more attacks resulted in five riders going clear. Ciccone then gave chase with two others, and the trio made contact to the leaders on the third climb, the Passo Rolle. Ciccone grabbed the maximum points over the top, a moot point perhaps, but in honor of blue, a nice gesture from the breakaway group.

“Today was crazy because it was the last opportunity for a lot of riders. At the start, my feeling was not good, and I also had problems with my saddle, it was broken, and I stopped during the Manghen [climb] to change the bike.  After this, my feeling was a lot better, and I tried to take some time before the final climb because for sure today Nibali, Landa, and Carapaz were superior,” explained Ciccone.

While the eight leaders opened a three-minute gap, behind the GC battled ignited again and resulted in Miguel Landa (Astana) going clear on Passo Rolle, with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) and Richard Carapaz (Movistar) bridging to him on the descent. The trio stayed away on the final long climb, which was split into two parts by a short descent.

Giulio Ciccone leads the chase group as they make the bridge to the five leaders on the Passo Rolle.

Mollema found his second wind and continued with the rest of the GC favorites, avoiding a crash on the descent and another on the final climb.

Meanwhile, the breakaway’s gap fell.

“It was super hard stage, a big fight from the start until the finish,” explained Mollema. “The first climb felt like the finish was at the top! It was full gas and a big fight for the breakaway. On top, 12 guys went, and we had no one there, so that was not a perfect situation for us, but luckily on the second climb, Conci and Ciccone attacked to try and bridge. In the end, that worked perfectly. I had to drop a bit at the top of the (Passo) Manghen when Astana went full gas, but I was only 20 seconds behind most of the favorites, so I didn’t panic. I knew the downhill well, and I came back in the middle of the downhill already. Then it was easier for a while until the last 15-20kms. Then again, a lot of things happened with crashes: Majka in front of me, Lopez just in front of me, so I was twice lucky there that I didn’t crash with them.”

Giulio Ciccone and Nicola Conci attack on the Passo Manghen.

Bauke Mollema rides in the GC favorites group.

With less than four kilometers remaining, the GC trio caught the breakaway.  The fight for the stage win was between the top three on the GC and the remnants of the escapees, and after a grueling day with four mountain climbs, it was a fierce uphill sprint for the line.  Landa jumped with 250 meters to go with Pello Bilbao (Astana) able to answer and come around him for the win. A tired Ciccone crossed the finish two seconds later to round out the top three.

“When the GC group caught us, I was thinking only to try and stay with them and win the stage.  The sprint was a little bit strange because I was on the left side and Bilboa was on the right, and when he went he cut me to go on the left, and I had to touch a little bit the brakes. I lost a little bit the speed, but honestly, my legs were on the limit. This is the race, I am very happy,” said Ciccone.

Behind, Mollema arrived with the rest of the favorites and eked out more time to sixth place after a roadside fan caused Miguel Lopez (Astana) to fall in the last kilometers.

“I think after 3 weeks of racing, and a tough day, I think everyone was really tired and were just giving everything until the finish,” added Mollema. “I am really happy to stay fifth and have a good gap for tomorrow. I don’t have the feeling that my form is getting less; it’s a good TT for me and an opportunity to still get a good result.”

A 17-kilometer time trial remains. With Mollema’s GC pretty much a done deal with big gaps to 4th and 6th places and the Maglia Azzurra already won, Trek-Segafredo can ride out a very successful Giro with no pressure and enjoy the final stage as they should.