Looking back to stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia there was little though that João Almeida would be the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider leading the charge for the team in the mountains during the third week. Yet as teammate and team leader Remco Evenepoel stepped out of the race for pink, the rider from Portugal fought his way back into it, ending up with sixth-place in his second Grand Tour.
Last year Evenepoel had been set to lead the team’s chase at the Giro d’Italia until that horrible crash at Il Lombardia but, with his absence, Almeida stepped up and into the maglia rosa for 15 days on his Grand Tour debut before losing it in a mountain stage and finishing fourth overall.
This year, despite plummeting from fourth to 42nd on the early climbing test of the Colle Passerino on stage 4, Almeida again earned the freedom to ride for his own GC chances and took up the challenge.
The 22-year-old, despite facing up to an edition of the Giro d’Italia that was low on the time trial kilometres that suit him, made his way back into the top ten by the end of stage 16 – the day the GC hopes of the team were put in his hands – and he moved further up on every stage, confirming his Grand Tour credentials.
“Overall, it was a good Giro d’Italia for me, a race where I learned a lot and where I could see the improvements I have made in the big mountains, where I could stay with the real climbers,” said Almeida.
On stage 17 Almeida finished second at Sega di Ala behind the winner from the break, Dan Martin, and ahead of all the GC contenders.
Then in stage 19 he was second again on Alpe di Mera, this time behind Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange), as he accelerated away from overall winner Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) in the final stages.
Almeida's strong performance in the mountains of the final week meant he started the time trial in eighth overall with little more than a minute separating him and the three riders in front of him on the general classification.
Fifth place in the 30.3 kilometre race against the clock in Milan made him the best of the GC contenders and moved him up two places on the overall, for a sixth place finish.
Almeida was only 27 seconds off stage winner Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) and so overtook Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) and Romain Bardet (Team DSM).
He also came frustratingly close to the top five as Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) finished 14th in the time trial 1:21 behind Ganna, putting him at 7:24 back from his team leader Bernal on the overall, the same time as Almeida, though Martínez was classified as fifth.
“Despite arriving here after three hard weeks, I felt quite good and was focused on doing a good ITT, and I’m content with the result, especially on a flat course like this,” said Almeida. Sixth overall is a very good result and I’m happy to be back in the top 10 after last year’s edition,” Almeida concluded.
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