Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) claimed his first victory of the season on the summit finish on stage 2 of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, taking the overall lead in the process.
The final climb of Alto de Pinos only measured 3km but came after a heavy day of climbing and saw the front group whittled down to a dozen riders.
After a dangerous attack from Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) was cancelled out, Ciccone tracked an attack from Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) in the final 500 metres and accelerated out of the final curve to lead down the narrow home stretch.
From there, he made no mistake and threw his glasses in the air as he crossed the line in what is becoming his trademark celebration.
Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) trailed behind for second place, while Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) claimed the final podium spot as Landa faded.
With 10 bonus seconds for the stage victory, Ciccone is the new race leader, taking the leader’s jersey from stage 1 winner Biniam Girmay.
“My director was always saying ‘stay in the wheels,’ so I waited until the last corner, but my feeling was really good, I had good legs,” Ciccone said. “It was my first chance to win, and I’m really happy to start the new season like this.”
The 178.2km stage from Novelda to Benissa had already taken in six categorised climbs and 3,000 metres of elevation before hitting the final climb of Alto de Pinos, where the peloton duly exploded under the pressure of Ineos Grenadiers and, specifically, Jonathan Castroviejo.
Bahrain Victorious had previously been setting the pace, but Castroviejo took over for the sinuous false flat in the final 13km and put out the flames of a spirited effort from the breakaway’s last-surviving duo, Alessandro De Marchi (Israel-Premier Tech) and Javier Romo (Astana Qazaqstan).
Castroviejo managed to carry on for another kilometre on the climb proper, and by the end of his turn, he’d already dropped teammates like Laurens De Plus and Thymen Arensman, with 25 riders left in the group.
Once he pulled aside, McNulty made his move and was later joined by neo-pro Thomas Gloag (Jumbo-Visma). However, the pair were brought back inside the final kilometre by Geoghegan Hart, who emerged as the stronger Ineos rider over Carlos Rodriguez.
With 12 riders left, Landa made a big move, and Ciccone clocked it instantly on the other side of the road. He trailed Landa through the final left-hand bend before profiting from a moment’s hesitation from the Spaniard to slingshot into the lead. At that point, the road had dipped and flattened, and the road was narrow, allowing Ciccone to comfortably press home his advantage.
Goeghegan Hart, who hadn’t reacted as quickly as Ciccone, eased past Bilbao and then Landa to take second place, with Bilbao third and Landa down in sixth behind Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe). Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Anthon Charming (Uno-X), Alex Aranburu (Astana), and Gloag were the other riders to finish on the same time, followed a few seconds later by Rodrígez, McNulty, and Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe).
In the overall standings, Ciccone leads by four seconds over Geoghegan Hart, with Bilbao third at five seconds ahead of a cluster of riders at 10 seconds. The general classification favourites will have to be alert again on Friday, but stage 3 looks set to come down to a reduced bunch finish after a long descent to the line in Sagunto.
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