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Giulio Ciccone’s win on stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia was, in the effervescent words of his team’s blog, “beautiful redemption”.
The 27-year-old from Abruzzo got away in a breakaway on the first of three big climbs. The group was slowly sifted away, sand through a sieve – until with 18 kilometres remaining, on the final ascent, an aggressive Ciccone was the last left standing. As he crossed the line, he reached for his helmet, found his neon yellow sunglasses, and chucked them into the rapturous crowd.
As cycling fans of the world would soon learn, it was Ciccone’s “trademark victory salute”. For Ciccone, it was obviously an emotional win – and as a rule, a bit of eccentric flair is always better than none at all.
But it also left me with questions – questions like, how many sunglasses has a jubilant Giulio thrown to the tifosi? What kind of economic hit are his sunglass sponsors taking? Where did this salute come from? Has it always been thus? Why?
It was time to take a deep, dark rummage in some photographic archives.
The case against Ciccone
Giulio Ciccone has been a professional cyclist since 2016, starting with a three-year stint with Bardiani-CSF – one of the colourful, multi-sponsored Italian Pro Continental teams (gross kit, too, but not as multi-sponsored as some). Ciccone soon found success – his first Giro d’Italia stage win came on the 10th stage of that year’s race. A win in his first Grand Tour, in his first pro season.
Patient zero for the sunglass toss? Not so:
Emotional? Yes. Green? Violently so. But as Ciccone rolled across the line, arms extended like wings, there is one other fact that is very clear: his sunglasses are firmly on his face.
Ciccone would next taste success in 2017, at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, winning the queen stage to Snowbird Resort. Bardiani had added a splash of orange to its kit, which was still no good. Ciccone was a little older, a little wiser.
And yet, despite having a cameraman suspended from a crane to aim at, he kept his sunglasses with him:
To 2018. Results websites tell me that Ciccone won the Giro dell’Appenino. None of our photographers deemed that race worthy of their time, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: according to the results of a Google image search that I cannot legally reproduce, Ciccone again resisted the temptation to send his sunglasses careening violently to the roadside.
2019, though – 2019 is the year that everything changes.
A history of violence (against sponsor-correct eyewear)
In that hazy, crazy pre-COVID age, Giulio Ciccone had flopped his signature on a Trek-Segafredo contract, and picked up a sunglass-toss-free stage win at the Tour de Haut Var. Grand Tour season was approaching, and in May, our guy was heading to his home race in a much nicer-looking kit with about 10% as many logos on it than the last time he’d raced it. He’d also been saddled with a shift in sunglass sponsor – from the rude-looking Briko to Koo.
Ciccone bided his time, keeping his head down through the opening couple of weeks. And then, then, stage 16.
“I remember that several times during the year, chatting with friends and people on the Giro, many of them said, ‘it’s the right stage for you’,” Ciccone later reminisced. “I had studied it, I was prepared, but that May 28th, in the morning, I was still nervous. My teammates also noticed because up to that moment, I was always laughing and joking at the sign-in, but not that day.”
Chuckles Ciccone was a man with a plan, and he executed it, jumping in a breakaway on a wet, cold day and holding off a chasing group of GC riders. Glued to his wheel was Jan Hirt (Astana). Hirt was not cooperative, and Ciccone was left feeling hurt. “I mean, put yourself in my shoes … getting angry was the least I could do! I was pissed,” Ciccone said later. But as the duo approached the finish line, Hirt had no answer and an enraged Ciccone won the stage.
As he did, his sunglasses bore the brunt of the fury.
“When I saw the finish line, I let all my anger out. The throw of the Koo glasses was born like this – an instinctive gesture, a liberation,” Ciccone said later (probably with a little help in the messaging from a marketing team scrambling to patch things up with an aggrieved sponsor).
Ciccone came close to winning a stage at the 2019 Tour de France a couple of months later, but his sunglasses remained delicately balanced in his helmet, toss-free until 2020.
Ciccone had not forgotten – and he apparently liked his new flourish enough that when he won the Trofeo Laigueglia in February 2020, a neon yellow pair of Koos went gliding into the Ligurian air. The crowd lost their goddamn minds. Obviously.
Which brings us to last Sunday, stage 15 of the 2022 Giro d’Italia – Ciccone again off the front, 90 seconds clear, riding not with rage nor early-season exuberance but with a victory celebration up his sleeve nonetheless. Over the line he went. Up in the air they went. A triptych completed: three pairs of Koos – The Glasses So Nice, He Threw Them Thrice™. $800 or so of premium Italian eyewear, sacrificed for the glory of sport, of Italy, of Giulio Ciccone.
On the road in Cogne, over Ciccone’s left shoulder, lying on the tarmac was a mystery – a second pair of sunglasses, black not yellow. Was Ciccone, like a great prima donna, being cascaded not with bouquets but with sports eyewear? Was there a second sunglass-tosser? Does everybody just do this thing in Italy?
Has Ciccone’s salute evolved to a second pair, tactically deployed from a jersey pocket while all eyes are on the rider’s hands and head? Does Giulio Ciccone maybe really hate Koo sunglasses?
Perhaps we’ll never know. After all, a great magician never reveals his secrets. But if the magic trick is redistributing cycling sunglasses to the roadside fans of Italy, one win at a time, there’s only one magician in town: the Magnificent, the Incomparable Giulio Ciccone.