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João Almeida and Ben Swift win Challenge of the Stars

Deceuninck-QuickStep's João Almeida had to dig deep to retain his pink leader’s jersey on stage 15 of the 2020 Giro d’Italia
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Giro d’Italia revelation João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers) have come out on top in the Challenge of the Stars. The online event, organized by Giro d’Italia organisers, RCS Sport, saw riders grouped together in groups of climbers or sprinters before competing head-to-head on the Bkool online platform.

Created by Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport, and first held during the spring COVID-19 lockdown in May, the head-to-head knockout format includes two races: one for climbers on the slopes of the virtual Stelvio and one for the sprinters on the virtual roads of the Tuscan countryside.

In the climbers' quater-finals, the winner of the inaugural Challenge of the Stars Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo) saw off Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, while Almeida beat Harm Vanhoucke. All-rounder Bauke Mollema was seen off by Harold Tejada, while Germany’s Ben Zwiehoff surprisingly beat two-time Vuelta a Espana winner Primoz Roglic.

In the much-anticipated semi-finals, Almeida beat Ciccone to set up a final with Zwiehoff. The Deceuninck-Quick-Step was too good for the German and took the win  after initially struggling at the start.

“It was very hard, a short course but intense right from the start. In the first round I had a good rhythm from the beginning, which I could keep until the end, while in the second one, the match-up ended earlier than expected when Ciccone had a problem during the race at a moment when I was ahead,” a delighted Almeida said.

“Then, the final was the toughest of them all, as my opponent started very fast. I had some difficulties in keeping up and at one point I was around five seconds behind, but then I went full gas, came back and won for a couple of seconds. I am very happy with this win, it’s nice to round out what’s been a great season with this success”, João said after winning the Climbers’ Challenge of the Stars.”

“This is hard racing, completely different from the open road, it’s quite hard to do such an explosive effort, especially in December. This kind of tournament is good fun, I enjoyed it, and I am sure also the other riders felt the same. 2020 was a special year for me. The way we raced the Giro was completely different from the past, I worked really hard and I think I showed I was at a completely new level. In the future I would like to target a stage victory at the Corsa Rosa.” 

In the sprint competition Swift saw off Pascal Ackermann and then Tim Merlier  before beating Arnaud Demare to win the title. Caleb Ewan and  Sam Bennett failed to make it out of the quarter-finals.

“This is hard racing, completely different from the open road, it’s quite hard to do such an explosive effort, especially in December. This kind of tournament is good fun, I enjoyed it, and I am sure also the other riders felt the same. 2020 was a special year for me. The way we raced the Giro was completely different from the past, I worked really hard and I think I showed I was at a completely new level. In the future I would like to target a stage victory at the Corsa Rosa,” Swift said.