For the second summit-finish stage running in the Giro d’Italia, Portugal’s João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) came within a whisker of claiming victory, this time on Friday's stage 19, but finally had to settle again for a sizable consolation prize of making an important advance in the race's overall battle.
The 22-year-old already claimed sixth in Cortina d’Ampezzo on Monday of this week, as well as second on the Sega di Ala stage on Wednesday behind solo winner Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation). So when he launched off on Friday’s Alpe di Mera climb even before Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) had attacked, it looked as if the talented young racer could very possibly hit the jackpot.
In an eventful climb for Almeida, as the first GC racer to throw down the gauntlet on the Alpe di Mera, he was first overtaken by Yates then briefly dropped by Bernal and his Ineos Grenadiers teammate Dani Martinez as the race leader fought to limit the gap on the British challenger.
But Almeida then dug deep, too, and first regained contact with the Colombians before easily gapping Bernal in the last 200 metres of the stage, crossing the line 11 seconds behind Yates but 17 seconds up on Bernal.
“I felt good and confident, so I attacked early to see what could happen,” Almeida said later. “To be up there with the other GC guys on this hard climb was nice and showed that I have good legs at the moment.
“It’s a pity I missed the win and took second again, but on the other hand, I gained more time in the standings, which bodes well for the remaining stages, where we’ll see what I will be able to do.”
Almeida remains in eighth place at 8:26 on Bernal, and the podium remains out of reach, but a quick glance at the results sheet on Friday would not do justice to what he has achieved.
In the space of a single climb, Almeida has closed the gap on fifth-placed Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), previously over two minutes distant, to just 75 seconds, making big GC gains possible for him in the last two days.
Nor does his result fully reflect the excellent teamwork throughout the day by Deceuninck-QuickStep on stage 19. Notable highlights included the Belgian team catching Dani Martinez out in a mid-stage mass attack that left Ineos Grenadiers fighting hard to ensure the Colombian could (and did) regain contact, a hard graft by Mikkel Honoré and Pieter Serry on the lower slopes of the Alpe di Mera, and finally a painful-looking, long turn by James Knox as a launchpad for Almeida.
Almeida thanked his squad profusely for their assistance, afterwards, and if the team is collectively firing on all cylinders in the final phases of the Giro, Almeida’s chances of a top five placing in MIlan look stronger than ever, too.
Apart from making big gains on the climbs, on paper, he’s a better time triallist than any of the remaining GC contenders ahead of him, with the possible exception of Alexandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), currently fourth overall and Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), in second.
It has to be said that the question of what Almeida would have achieved without having to work for teammate Remco Evenepoel for the first two-thirds of the Giro will doubtless remain a subject of internet forum speculation for weeks to come. But come what may, the Portuguese racer looks set to conclude the Giro on a high note, with or without that elusive stage win.
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