First, it was the 2020 Giro d'Italia and now it's the 2021 Volta a Catalunya: João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has again established himself as the GC man to beat with the early capture of a race leader's jersey. Once again, the young Portuguese star is determined not to lose it.
If Almeida's unexpected lead in the Giro d'Italia came at the summit of Mount Etna on stage 3, this time in the Volta a Catalunya the Portuguese star left the GC field trailing in his wake in the very different terrain of Tuesday's stage 2 time trial at Banyoles.
Third at Banyoles behind Rohan Dennis (Ineos Grenadiers) and Deceuninck-Quick Step teammate Remi Cavagna, the margins remain tight on GC, with Almeida tied on time with Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) and a total of seven riders still within 10 seconds. On Wednesday is the first summit finish at Vallter, therefore, the sparks are certain to fly.
Even so, with a third-place overall in the UAE Tour, and a sixth place in the recently finished Tirreno-Adriatico, Almeida is clearly on good form. His stunning defense of the Giro d'Italia's maglia rosa last year, lasting over two weeks, is a strong indication of just how tenacious the Portuguese racer's hold on a leader's jersey can be in the mountains as well as against the clock.
"I did a good TT, maybe I should have pushed myself a little bit more in the middle part but I was afraid of killing myself," Almeida told reporters at the finish. "I was feeling good after yesterday [Monday] even though I was unlucky just before the final climb and had to make an extra effort to get back into contact with the group. But today I was in good shape.
"Coming into the race I knew that the time trial was one of my weapons and I could gain some time thanks to it, and it's great to see I've done that."
While recognising that taking the lead had raised his expectations in the 2021 Volta a Catalunya, Almeida said that he was always aiming to secure a solid overall position on GC. "That's always my goal and that's what I work for," he added.
"It's a really hard race and a lot of top names are here, but for sure I will work hard to keep the jersey. We'll do our best to keep it.
"I want to do a good general classification, but we'll take it day by day and see what the big climbs will bring."
Should Almeida win the Volta a Catalunya overall, he would become the first Portuguese winner in the race's 110-year history. Meanwhile, in a notable double day of leadership for Deceuninck-QuickStep, Mark Cavendish also moved into the top spot overall in the Coppi e Bartali stage race in Italy on Tuesday.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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