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Giro d’Italia leader Almeida unscathed and unfazed by late crash

MATERA ITALY OCTOBER 08 Joao Almeida of Portugal and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Pink Leader Jersey Crash Alvaro Jose Hodeg Chagui of Colombia and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Fernando Gaviria Rendon of Colombia and UAE Team Emirates during the 103rd Giro dItalia 2020 Stage 6 a 188km stage from Castrovillari to Matera 401m girodiitalia Giro on October 08 2020 in Matera Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Race leader Joao Almeida is assisted back to his bike after being knocked over by Brandon McNulty on stage 6 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Giro d'Italia leader João Almeida said on Wednesday he was feeling increasingly "chilled" about defending the maglia rosa and on Thursday he duly took a distinctly laid-back attitude to a bizarre final-hour crash that could, with only a little more bad luck, have lost him the top spot overall.

With 37 kilometres to go on stage 6, television images showed Almeida stopped and standing at the side of the road, before tumbling over when another two riders collided with the stationary Giro leader. 

Fortunately, the Deceuninck-QuickStep racer was able to continue riding, and his overall advantage of 43 seconds on Spain's Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) remained intact.

"I had a problem, my radio wasn't working, and as it was quite windy and I didn't want to crash with the rest of the riders, I decided to stop to get it changed," Almeida subsequently recounted.

"But another rider [Brandon McNulty of UAE Team Emirates] came into me from behind and we ended up crashing anyway." 

Almeida confirmed that he was "OK, fortunately" and the accident proved to be nothing more than a narrow escape. 

But regardless of such near misses, the 22-year-old neo-pro insisted in any case that overall he was increasingly comfortable with leading cycling's second biggest bike race – even if he felt somewhat surprised about that, too.

"I'm actually getting used to this maglia," he said, as if the feeling was somewhat unexpected, "but it's a very special jersey and I hope to keep it for a few more days." 

Being suddenly flung into the limelight is not a concern for Almeida then, even when one journalist told him point-blank he was "probably the second most famous Portuguese person in Italy right now, after Cristiano Ronaldo" and asked if he knew the soccer star personally. 

Almeida, perhaps unsurprisingly, said he had yet to meet Ronaldo, but politely described the footballer as a "great professional." Yet regardless of Almeida's potential associations with Portugal's sporting greats, his ability to handle newfound stardom was notable in terms of his attitude to racing, too. 

Whereas the risk of crosswinds on Friday's stage through the flatlands of south-east Italy might cause other less-chilled individuals some concern, for example, Almeida said he was actually "not too worried about it," and even described riding in echelons as "fun, a different type of racing."

As he reminded journalists too, Deceuninck-QuickStep have a fearsome reputation as past masters of riding in crosswinds, such as last year's stage of the Vuelta a España to Guadalajara, when the Belgian team ripped the Spanish Grand Tour apart, being a case in point.

"They are a good team in those situations, very experienced," Almeida added.

Asked if he felt relaxed because he was living a dream, or worried if it might end, Almeida opted, unsurprisingly, for the former.

"So far I'm very relaxed and I hope to hold the lead for a few more days. So we'll take it on the day by day and I'll do what I can."

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.