João Almeida lost 14 seconds to his Giro d'Italia rivals but they were again unable to crack the consistent Portuguese rider, who remains third overall but now at 44 seconds.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) managed to gradually distance Almeida when the gradient of the Valico di Santa Cristina steepened but he never gave in and fought for every second. Almeida kept them in sight on the 10.1% gradient through the trees and chased them down the short descent and along the valley road to Aprica.
Hindley won the sprint for third place and picked-up four bonus seconds but Almeida was just behind them, riding as he did so consistently in 2020 and 2021 and landing a psychological blow on his big three rivals despite losing a few seconds.
"It was a super hard stage with 5000m of climbing. It was all about the legs. I like to pace myself but I was just going full gas, I had nothing left," he told Cyclingnews and Velonews in the post-race mixed-zone.
"It was a hard day out, right from the start and it was fast. But I'm happy because I felt good and managed to hang on as well as I could. I was maybe a little weaker than the other guys but tomorrow is a different day. I could be even worse, we just don't know. It's one day less and I'll just keep fighting."
Almeida is the modern king of Giro d'Italia consistency. He is virtually impossible to crack and always fights back. He has already been described as a modern-day Miguel Indurain for his patience and sangfroid way of racing and has already proved he has the endurance and determination to race hard for three weeks and fight for the podium.
Almedia described his lost seconds as important but knows he is still in the game and still in the fight for overall victory and the final podium places. He is now 44 seconds down on Carapaz, 41 behind Hindley but 15 seconds ahead of Landa. Vincenzo Nibali rose to fifth overall but is at a far more distant 3:40.
Almeida cannot afford to lose much more time on the late steep climbs on stage 17 or Saturday's mountain finish at the Marmolada but has the advantage of the final 17.4km time trial around Verona.
When Hindley was fighting for the maglia rosa with Tao Geoghegan Hart in 2020, Almeida pulled back 56 seconds on the Australian in the flat and fast 15.7km Milan time trial. In 2021 he gained 1:26 on overall winner Egan Bernal in the 30.3km time trial.
"Everything is still on the table," Almedia rightly insisted, the 17.4km Verona time trial hanging like a virtual carrot ahead of him.
"There are some good time gaps but nothing is lost. I don't think 15 seconds or so is much after climbing for 5000m. It's all about the legs for the rest of the race and we need to keep fighting."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.