The Critérium du Dauphiné came to an end on Sunday with a brutal stage full of climbs, rapid descents and a vicious final climb evocatively named La Bastille. Now would usually be the time for a ‘what we learned from …’ sort of piece, but what we learned from this Tour de France tune-up race was both predicted before the first turn of a pedal last weekend, and then confirmed on Saturday’s queen stage as Jonas Vingegaard soared to stage victory and consolidation of the overall lead.
If there’s anything to take away from stage 8, it’s the timely and definitive comeback of one Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), whose big target of the season was robbed from him by a COVID-19 positive just before the Giro d’Italia.
So what was so impressive about his victory at La Bastille?
Sure, we know the man can climb, he’s won three stages and a KOM jersey at his home Grand Tour and has even started knocking harder at the door of the GC competition.
With his sights keenly focused on the Giro, Ciccone came into this season absolutely flying, and took arguably one of his most impressive victories to date on stage 2 of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, beating both Remco Evenepoel and eventual Giro winner Primož Roglič in the battle to the line. Fifth at La Flèche Wallonne came next, then a top-15 finish at Liège, before a planned break in the lead-up to the Giro.
But when his home race was snatched from him, Ciccone was forced to recalibrate his expectations for the season.
The Italian arrived at the Critérium du Dauphiné with a new set of goals and seemed to ease himself into the race in the early stages, gradually riding himself into the position to make the early breakaway on stage 8.
“I had 10 days off the bike,” Ciccone said after his stage win, explaining the break he took for illness. “My condition wasn’t 100% so I started here with the Tour de France in my head, but saw this week my condition getting better and better, so I’m really happy to close this week with a victory.”
He had pretty formidable company in the breakaway with Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma), Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep), and Vuelta stage-winner Clément Champoussin (Arkéa-Samsic) also making the cut, and for a long time, it looked likely that the Jumbo-Visma-dominated peloton would have them caught by the finish to set up Vingegaard for a third stage win of the week.
Sure enough, feeling the peloton breathing down their necks, Ciccone attacked last-remaining breakaway companion Alaphilippe 20 km from the finish and crested the Col de Porte with a 30-second lead as the GC group splintered behind. What came next was a frightening descent which saw risk-taker Ciccone almost double his lead by the final climb. At 1.8 km with an average of 14% – including ramps of around 25% – he’d need every second he could muster to get the better of some of the superior climbers behind him.
Considering he’d already spent over 140 km ahead of the peloton in the move of the day, his performance on La Bastille climb is pretty remarkable.
Assuming the on-screen graphics were correct, Ciccone had 56 seconds at the foot of the climb, with Vingegaard ready to be launched behind. With 500 metres to go, the graphic had fallen away (why no gaps in the final km?), but aerial shots indicated that the gap between the Italian and the yellow jersey was wide enough for the former to hang on to stage victory – and hang on he did.
Here’s the impressive part: Ciccone climbed that last 1.8 km faster than all but four of the GC contenders (N.B. We have to assume there might be some leeway in these times taking into account historically dubious reliability and the fact that the group may have narrowed the gap by the time they reached the foot of the climb).
At the finish:
2. Jonas Vingegaard +23”
3. Adam Yates +33”
4. Ben O’Connor +49”
5. Guillaume Martin +54”
And Ciccone did it all without his talismanic sunglasses, which usually play a key role in his victory celebrations.
So what have we learned from the Dauphiné? Giulio Ciccone is (among those) ready for the Tour de France. But first, he’s got a wedding to enjoy.
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