Almeida focused on climbing and race craft as he targets Giro and Vuelta
Portuguese rider excited to race alongside Pogacar but has his own support group and leadership responsibilities
João Almeida has identified climbing and race craft as two key pillars of his Grand Tour development, as he sets his sights on both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España in his first season with UAE Team Emirates.
The Portuguese 23-year-old has only been a professional for two years but has already established himself as a three-week contender with back-to-back top-six finishes at the Giro.
After spending 15 days in the leader’s pink jersey before finishing fourth in the late-season 2020 edition, he did the opposite and came from outside the top 10 to place sixth last May.
On both occasions, he bolstered his overall result against the clock but will have to adapt as he once again makes the Italian Grand Tour the focal point of his season, with a 2022 route that features just 26km of individual time trialling.
"More time trialling would be ideal for me, but it is what it is,” Almeida told reporters from a pre-season team training camp in Spain.
"In the end, there’s a lot of climbing, but overall in the Grand Tours, the main decisions are made on the climbs. With the time trials, you get one or two spots difference, so you can improve your position, but overall it’s the climbs that make the biggest difference."
With his switch from QuickStep to UAE Team Emirates, Almeida says he has "basically changed everything", from his bike and equipment to his training and nutrition plans. He is now working with Iñigo San Millán, who also coaches his new teammate Tadej Pogačar and is already shaking things up.
"The training plan is different to the one I was used to with my old coach at QuickStep. The efforts I do, the type of training and the approach to races is different to what I’m used to but I’m feeling good with it, so I think it’s a positive thing," Almeida said.
He was reluctant to go into specifics, arguing that “training is quite a personal thing” but did indicate that improving uphill would be the priority.
"With a Giro like this, of course, I will focus more on climbing and not so much on the TT."
The other area where Almeida sees room for improvement is in his racecraft. Even if it’s not something that can necessarily be coached, he explained that his two appearances at the Giro have taught him valuable lessons.
"I've made a few mistakes. Sometimes, I would attack for no reason at all, so maybe I should be more conservative sometimes. But other times maybe I needed to attack more.
"You can never be too smart or too intelligent. Being able to read the race better, to understand the opponents… that comes naturally, race after race with experience. So far I’ve been doing good but there’s always a lot to learn and improve so we are here for that as well."
Almeida will make his debut for his new team at their ‘home’ race, the UAE Tour, in February, alongside Pogačar and the cream of the team’s talent. He will go on to ride Paris-Nice and the Tour of Catalunya, with an altitude training camp to precede another final outing ahead of the start of the Giro in Hungary on May 6.
After the Giro, Almeida will turn his attention to the Vuelta a España, as he looks to ride two Grand Tours in one season for the first time in his career.
"The plan is to do the Giro and Vuelta this year. Of course, we have to see how I feel, but that’s the plan, and I think I’ll be able to do it,” he said.
Let’s see what team we take to the Vuelta. It’s quite a long way off but we can take a strong team there."
Almeida wasn’t sure if he’d be sharing leadership duties with Pogačar, despite the Tour de France champion indicating his intentions to head to the Vuelta after gunning for a third yellow jersey. Almeida, who has signed a five-year deal at UAE, clearly sees himself as a separate leader, with a separate support group, rather than a luxury domestique to the Slovenian star, but insisted he was happy to be sharing a jersey.
"I feel very good with this. It will be a pleasure to race with Tadej. He’s one of the best cyclists ever - not just at the moment. Being able to race with him, learn from him, and help him reach good results and win races… it’s good to be a part of and it gives me motivation for the future."
As for his own ambitions, he revealed that compatriot Rui Costa, the 2013 world champion, is among the group of riders set to surround him at the Giro and other races where he shoulders leadership responsibilities.
"The team shows a lot of confidence in me. I’m still young, and having a team like this give me a goal like this shows they really trust me," Almeida said.
"I have a good team around me. One is Rui Costa, who is also Portuguese. We’ve been training together and developing our relationship so we can have it in the races, and the same for other riders, too. I’m still young and can always learn from the guys who are more experienced than me.
"I’m enjoying being with the team, it’s been a really positive change. The only thing I can promise is that I’m going to work really hard to be in the best shape, making all the sacrifices and doing everything I can do so we can go and try to reach our goals."
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Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.