Words: Andy McGrath | Photographs: Offside / Sean Hardy
The day before the Grand Départ at last year’s Tour de France, Giulio Ciccone was not a man in demand. At the start of our 30 minute confab, he confided his dream of a stage victory: “I’ve already won one at the Giro. I’m halfway there and it can only get better.”
He very nearly pulled it off and snagged something even rarer in the process. A week later, he was the unexpected occupant of the yellow jersey for 24 hours after breaking away to second on La Planche des Belles Filles. A Giro stage win, dominance of the race’s mountains competition and now the maillot jaune? Not a bad summer’s work.
Ciccone hails from Italy’s central Abruzzo region, a hilly, unspoiled region which was devastated by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in 2009. Its epicentre was located in L’Aquila, 90 kilometres west of his hometown, Chieti. “That’s a bad memory,” he says. “I didn’t understand what was happening, everything was suddenly shaking. We rushed to leave the house but when we got outside, it was all over.” Several houses lay flattened in the aftermath.
Taking to the sport after being inspired by his cycling-mad father, Ciccone has been making bold, far-out breakaways since adolescence. “I’ve lost a lot of races like this,” he says. He’s won plenty too. Within six months of turning pro, he took a Giro stage in 2016 on the underdog Bardiani team. However, a heart operation for tachycardia that winter made him fear for his career and resulted in a season fighting to recover his old condition.
The mountains are Ciccone’s natural arena and he has been an irrepressible breakaway presence there in the last two Giri. In 2019, his first season with Trek-Segafredo, he won another stage, lobbing his sunglasses into the air with joy as he crossed the line (if anyone found some red Koo shades in Ponte di Legno, please address them to Casa Ciccone). It was, in fact, a premonition; he had literally been dreaming of stage victory during the race. The result was the cherry on the tiramisu, confirming his overwhelming victory in the race’s Mountains competition.
Next up is his goal of becoming a Grand Tour contender. “Something inside me pushes me to always go for more. My head never stops; I never say ‘that’s good,’ it’s always looking to improve. I’m more than a perfectionist,” he says.
With his spectacular racing style, boyish face and recent move to Monte-Carlo, “Cicco” is a star in the making. The final piece of the puzzle might just be having the elder statesman of Italian pro cycling firmly in his corner.
The last Tour de France Ciccone watched avidly was the 2013 triumph of Vincenzo Nibali; now, the Sicilian is his Trek-Segafredo team-mate. “He’s a sporting idol because he’s done and won practically everything,” he says. Where lo squalo led, he might just follow. Maybe his nickname should be Baby Shark.
Originally published in Rouleur issue 20.4, on sale now