The Tour de France has a new leader after Italian rider Giulio Ciccone claimed the yellow jersey on an iconic mountain stage. The Tour rookie moved clear of Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe by just a few seconds on Thursday.
The last few meters of La Planche des Belle Filles were relentless. Any normal bike rider would have gotten off long before and even some of the elite were pushed to their limit over the course of four brutal climbs – some as steep as a 24 per cent incline. Behind the finish line, there was more than a fair share of shaky legs on display.
For the fourth time since 2012, the 160.5 kilometer ride up the 1,140 meter high mountain in Vosges featured on the Tour de France. This year though, the organizers had devised a special 'treat' for the riders, attaching an 800 meter long, extremely steep gravel road to an already grueling finish. By the end of it all though, there was a new man in possession of the yellow jersey, Giulio Ciccone, the 269th in it's 100-year history.
It may not be the pink of his ultimate dream Giro d'Italia jersey, but the Italian rider was over the moon. "The yellow jersey was a childhood dream of mine," he told reporters. "Today I've made that dream come true. It's incredible. It's hard to believe."
A rookie who hadn't even planned to compete on the Tour de France, Ciccone cemented his up-and-comer status in the cycling world at the end of the leg-breaking climb of the Planche des Belles Filles.
Giulio Ciccone leapt 41 places up the general classification standings to move into a narrow lead over Julian Alaphilippe (pictured).
"My big goal this year was the Giro," said Ciccone. "The Tour was not on my program. But because of my strong condition, the team sent me to the Tour in support of Richie Porte and to get some experience."
The 24-year-old reputation as a climber was enhanced at his home race as he won a tough mountain stage this spring in addition to the best climber's jersey.
"My target and that of the team was to win this stage," said Ciccone. "I was extremely frustrated I didn't win the stage, but when it became clear I had taken the yellow jersey the anger went away immediately." The Italian was beaten to the finish line by Dylan Tuens as the last survivors of a 14-man breakaway.
With Friday's 230-kilometer stage considerably flatter, there's a good chance the Italian will be able to retain the lead until the weekend, but he's not getting ahead of himself.
said Ciccone. "For sure the yellow jersey does not change our plans. Richie is our leader. We also have another card to play with Bauke Mollema. I'm going to honor this jersey and try to keep it, then I'll get back to my teammate work for Richie Porte."
Ciccone, who cites former Tour champions Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali among his idols, reportedly began racing as as young as eight after spending hours watching the Tour and the Giro on TV. "And now I'm here answering questions with this yellow jersey, it feels strange," he concluded.
jt (AFP, AP)