After surprising the cycling world with how a 21-year-old could defend his 2020 Giro d’Italia lead so strongly for over a fortnight, João Almeida was unable to hold onto his top spot in the Volta a Catalunya for more than a single day, as multiple attacks by multiple rivals on the slopes of Vallter 2000 made it impossible for the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider to keep control of the race.
Just like in the best whodunnit murder mysteries where the villan turns out to be several people, not one, Almeida’s lead crumbled in the face of attacks ranging from veterans Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) through to Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers).
Stage 3’s format, with a long, flattish approach road, a slight tailwind, and a single, final climb, did no favours to Almeida’s chances, given it meant the bulk of the top GC challengers were fresh and raring to go when Vallter’s 11 kilometres of climbing finally kicked in.
In the end, it was Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) who proved the strongest and took the lead, and Wilco Kelderman’s (Bora-Hansgrohe) acceleration in the Almeida group which did for the Portuguese rider’s two last mountain helpers, James Knox and Fausto Masnada with about three kilometres to go. But with such a high-speed ascent and the non-stop series of challenges, when it came to GC rivals, in many ways, everybody and nobody in the GC battle was really guilty of toppling Almeida from the top spot.
Now in third place at 50 seconds behind Adam Yates, Almeida recognised that he had been overwhelmed by the different attacks, but insisted that he still had options on victory in the Volta’s four remaining stages.
“It was a really hard climb, and I knew it’d be hard to keep the jersey,” the 22-year-old said. “The other guys were stronger than me on the climbs.
“But I can be happy with how I performed, I did my best and there was nothing else I could do. The team helped me out the whole day and we can be happy with our effort.”
Almeida remains the best-placed rider to challenge the multiple Ineos Grenadiers challenge, from his third place position.
But he has two Ineos Grenadiers riders ahead of him, Yates and Richie Porte, as well as their teammate Geraint Thomas stalking him a mere three seconds behind. Almeida will therefore, have to pull out all the stops between here and Barcelona to shake off such a collectively strong Ineos squad.
“There’s a lot of kilometres left to race and a lot of hard kilometres to go,” Almeida said defiantly. “We’ll see how it plays out.”
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