Teammate Julien Bernard backs Giulio in the breakaway that succeeds in a hilly fourth day in France.
After three flat, windy stages, Paris-Nice hit the hills for stage four, a day ripe for a breakaway, and Trek-Segafredo was ready. When the day’s breakaway bolted up the road, Julien Bernard and Giulio Ciccone were part of the mix, an escape group with experienced firepower as Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Alessandro De Marchi (CCC Team) and Magnus Cort (Astana) were also represented.
Thirteen men numbered the early move, but the hills and pace whittled the group to seven with just over 30 kilometers to go.
The peloton was never far behind and closing to the breakaway as the race entered its final part. With the gap decreasing, Julien Bernard hit the front on the last climb with 12 kilometers remaining, burying himself to help the break succeed and give teammate Ciccone a chance at glory. A selfless act from a genuine team player.
“Today was a very hard stage,” said Ciccone. “Already at five kilometers, me and Julien went into the breakaway. I have to give a big thanks to Julien and the rest of the team for this opportunity and especially to Julien who was really super today. He pulled full gas in the last climb and worked really, really hard.”
“The plan today was to go into the breakaway with the most guys possible, and me and Giulio found the good move,” added Bernard. “In one moment Mitchelton (Scott) was pulling really fast behind so we had to make a choice, and I made the choice to sacrifice myself for Giulio. At 65kms to go, I pulled hard on the climb and then when there were 7 strong riders at the end, I tried to do the best possible on the last climb for Giulio. And like this, we beat the peloton today and played for the victory. I am happy to show my shape and be able to help the team get a result. We should be happy with this; a podium placing is always a good thing.”
Bernard pulled until he had nothing more to give and at the top of the final climb only the four strongest remained: De Gendt, De Marchi, Cort, and Ciccone. Despite a raging chase from the peloton, the gap held steady over the ensuing kilometers, only falling slightly in the final few kilometers.
An uphill finish remained and Ciccone – his first year in a WorldTour team and the least experienced – was calculating how to beat his bigger-named rivals.
“I was thinking about the sprint already, and then Cort went, so that changed everything. I had a mental picture of the sprint and was preparing for that, so when he went, I had to readjust and think differently. That was not easy,” explained Ciccone.
Cort, the fastest in a sprint of the four, surprised everyone by jumping with 600 meters to go. He opened an immediate gap, and despite a chase by De Gendt held on to take the win. De Gendt followed across the line for second, and Ciccone accelerated around De Marchi in the final meters to take third.
“If it had come down to a sprint, I obviously cannot know if I could have outsprinted them, but the situation would have been completely different, and you never know what can happen. Cort Nielsen is a very strong rider, so I am not sure if I could beat him, but it would have been nice to at least be able to try,” ended Ciccone.