Ciccone celebrates ‘most beautiful victory’ of his career on Giro stage 15

Stage 15 was one for the breakaway, with Giulio Ciccone the strongest on the first Alpine test of the 2022 Giro d'Italia.

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Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) soloed to stage 15 victory in Cogne after a day on the attack. The GC riders meanwhile took a day off, for the most-part, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) the only one to make any moves with a smooth and ever-so characteristic attack 50 km out.

The 2022 Giro d’Italia’s first Alpine stage got underway with attacking from the start, and it took until almost the halfway point of the 177 km stage for about 25 riders forged a breakaway.

Their cohesion was short-lived, and on the first of three long climbs, Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) went clear to hunt down enough KOM points to put him back into the maglia azzurra. It took a little while for Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Martijn Tusveld (DSM) to go after him, and they joined their compatriot after the descent off the first-category Pila-les Fleurs.

As the second and more challenging climb began, Merhawi Kudus (EF Education-EasyPost) was chiefly responsibly for shredding the remaining breakaway a little over a minute behind the leaders, as Bouwman was dropped from the front of the race. Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) was clearly one of the strongest, and the Italian ultimately led the catch, with Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious) and Antonio Pedrero (Movistar) in his wake.

Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) paced himself steadily up to the leading trio on the upper slopes of the first-category Verrogne, justifying the work of his teammate Kudus. And after Ciccone led them down a technical descent, a previously dropped Tusveld returned to the front with Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates).

With the stage win up for grabs – the peloton almost six minutes down – the six riders stayed more or less together on the valley road leading to the final climb, which was a funny one. At 22.1 km, the climb to the finish in Cogne was the longest of the day, and its 4.3% average gradient is deceptive, with ramps exceeding 10% on the lower slopes and a leisurely upper half that rarely goes over 3%.

Ciccone had looked particularly sprightly, even irritable on the penultimate climb, and made a bit of a nuisance of himself on the descent, his abundance of energy ready to explode. The Italian attacked from the back of the group at the foot of the final climb, drawing out only Buitrago and Carthy. Then, when the Brit tried his own move, Ciccone let the wheel go with his eye on Buitrago behind him, before bridging across to the Brit with apparent ease.

“The steep part of the climb was at the beginning, in my mind I say, ‘OK, if I go alone here I can arrive alone,’” Ciccone said after the stage. “Otherwise, with two of three riders, you never know what can happen. I tried here today because my legs were really good. It was the best choice that I made.”

Clearly the strongest, Ciccone attacked again with 18.8 km to go and this time, Carthy was unable to follow. The Italian had an advantage of 1:10 when he hit the big-ring sector in the last 10 km, Buitrago now lodged in a lonely pursuit after surpassing Carthy.

Ciccone enjoyed the support of the tifosi as he climbed the final few kilometres to an emotional first victory since before the pandemic. 22-year-old Buitrago rallied to take a career-best second place, and a resurgent Pedrero, usually a domestique, rounded out the podium in third.

“I think this has been my most beautiful victory,” Ciccone said, “even better than the yellow jersey at the tour de France. This has an indescribable value for me.”

In the GC race, Guillaume Martin had attacked the Ineos Grenadiers-led peloton just inside the last 50 km, hoping to put a dent in his 9:44 deficit. There was no reaction when he went clear, and by the finish he’d gained almost two minutes and jumped back into the overall top 10, now 8:02 down. Otherwise it was a fairly stress-free day, at least once Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) had chased back after an early crash – the only visual harm to the shoulder of his maglia rosa – and once the battle for the breakaway was over.

Besides Martin’s bounce back into tenth overall, pushing Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) out, the GC standings stay the same with Carapaz sitting seven seconds ahead of Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), and 30 seconds over best young rider João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates). The top eight are all within three minutes, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) at 2:58, while former race leader Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) holds firm 4:04 down in ninth.

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