Almeida chasing Pogacar at UAE Tour

Joao Almeida of UCI WorldTeam Deceuninck Quick Step pedals during the second stage of the UAE Cycling Tour from alHudayriyat Island to alHudayriyat Island on February 22 2021 Photo by Giuseppe CACACE AFP Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACEAFP via Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

All eyes are on Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar at the UAE Tour after the UAE Team Emirates rider moved into the race lead thanks to his fourth place in the stage 2 individual time trial. But another top Grand Tour performer from 2020 is chasing close behind; João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quickstep), fourth in the Giro d'Italia after leading for 15 stages, sits just five seconds in arrears.

The Portuguese rider earned six seconds in time bonuses on the opening stage and helped shatter the peloton in the crosswinds – one of just 21 riders still in contention for the overall victory – although he ended up ceding three seconds to a cluster of seven riders including Pogacar in the sprint.

After the entire Alpecin-Fenix team were forced to leave the race when a staff member tested positive overnight for the coronavirus, stage 1 winner Mathieu van der Poel's leader's jersey was now up for grabs.

Although the stage 2 time trial was dominated by Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), the Italian was one of the riders who shipped 8:29 in the echelons and was no threat for the general classification.

Almeida put himself in a solid podium position, holding Pogacar to six seconds and taking sixth on the stage, and he is now the rider in the best position to challenge Pogacar for the overall victory when the race heads to Jebel Hafeet on stage 3.

"Today was very windy, but I gave everything out there and I am really happy with my effort," Almeida said. "It's my first race of the season and it's a nice feeling to know I'm on the podium after two hard stages.

"We are in a good position for the first summit finish and we'll continue like this, taking it day by day and seeing where that leads us."

Almeida also leads the points classification and the intermediate sprints classification, while teammate Mattia Cattaneo gives the team another tactical option by moving into fourth place overall at 18 seconds.

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