João Almeida was invisible to television viewers for much of the Passo del Menador, but the Portuguese rider could see the Giro d’Italia a hundred metres or so ahead of him almost all the way up the climb.
For the second stage in succession, Almeida was unable to match the pace laid down by Bahrain Victorious on the day’s final ascent. Yet even as the road coiled into a steep stack of hairpins and tunnels, Almeida stuck grimly to the task in hand, keeping Richard Carapaz (Ineos), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) just about in sight.
The television cameras failed to pick up Almeida for much of the climb, and it fell upon RAI’s motorbike reporter Stefano Rizzato to keep viewers informed of the UAE Team Emirates location. On the narrowest and steepest section of road, carved into the rock face by the Austro-Hungarian Kaiserjäger regiment during World War I, Almeida remained consistently ‘una centinaia di metri’ behind the front group.
As the road began to level out at the summit, it looked as though Almeida might even channel the former Olympic 800m champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy, whose preferred tactic was to run the first lap adrift of his rivals before surging to the front in the finishing straight.
Instead, Almeida’s deficit stretched out considerably on the rippling 8km plateau that led from the summit of the Mendola to the finish in Lavarone. Carapaz, Landa and Hindley, mindful of Almeida’s quality against the watch, found common cause to distance him here. Almeida reached the finish 1:04 down on the pink jersey group. In the overall standings, he remains fourth overall, but he is now 1:54 behind the leader Carapaz.
“To be honest, I didn’t lose that much time on the climb. It was more on the flat afterwards. I was alone and against three guys it’s hard,” Almeida said in the mixed zone afterwards. “But I still managed to limit the losses, so it wasn’t a bad day.”
Almeida had already conceded seconds here and there on this Giro, but this was the first major setback of his race. His aptitude as a rouleur meant that the 24-year-old could have hoped to win the Giro in the short final time trial in Verona, but with his deficit now yawning towards two minutes, his path to victory has narrowed considerably. A podium finish, it seems, will now be the summit of his ambition from here, and he faces into the final four stages just 49 seconds behind the third-placed Landa.
“I mean everything is possible, but I would say it’s almost impossible to take pink,” Almeida said. “But I think the podium is still possible. I still believe.”
Two years ago, when Almeida conceded the pink jersey on the Stelvio after carrying the lead for two weeks, he wore his disappointment lightly. He was just as equable when he visited the mixed zone here, acknowledging that he had realised even before the Passo del Vetriolo that this would be a most complicated afternoon.
“I mean since the beginning I could feel that it wasn’t my best day, I couldn’t recover 100% from yesterday. Yesterday was really a brutal day. I just suffered today like always, but the Giro isn’t over yet so let’s keep fighting,” said Almeida.
“I would say it wasn’t really a bad day, it was just that the other guys were stronger than me today, which can happen a lot of times. But there are still two big stages to come and the TT, so nothing is lost.”
Thursday’s flat run to Treviso provides some respite for the podium contenders ahead of the grand finale at the weekend. After a deceptively tough foray into Slovenia and Friuli on stage 19, the race hits the Dolomites on Saturday, with the Pordoi and Fedaia on the menu. Almeida now requires a late collapse from one or more of the men ahead of him to take pink, but that final, 17km test in Verona keeps him firmly in the running for the podium.
“There are more hard stages to come but I’m still confident I can do well,” said Almeida, who smiled when asked for his approach on the final haul up the Fedaia on Saturday: “Give everything I have and see on the finish line.”
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Get The Leadout Newsletter
The latest race content, interviews, features, reviews and expert buying guides, direct to your inbox!
Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.