Giro d'Italia: Almeida outduels Thomas on stage 16 atop Monte Bondone

After the slowest of burns, the Giro d'Italia caught fire on stage 16, with João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) winning the stage, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) taking the pink jersey, and both putting time into Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).

When Thomas skipped away from Roglič to link up with Almeida, who'd attacked a kilometre or so further down the Monte Bondone summit finish, it looked like a crisis for the three-time Vuelta winner. He managed it relatively well, pegging the gap in the final kilometres thanks to teammate Sepp Kuss, but he still conceded 25 seconds at the line and perhaps a fair chunk of momentum and confidence, too.

Almeida got the better of Thomas in the two-up sprint for the line at the summit of Monte Bondone, with Thomas finishing in the wheel but with the consolation of taking the overall lead

Roglič crossed the line 25 seconds later for third place, salvaging four bonus seconds, while Eddie Dunbar (Jayco-AlUla), the only other rider who survived the first real GC selection of this Giro, taking fourth place in Roglič's wheel.

The damage was worse for Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), who conceded more than a minute, alongside the likes of Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM), and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost).

The selection took place on the steep upper slopes of Monte Bondone, the final act of a final-week opener that totalled over 5,000 metres of elevation gain across five climbs. Jumbo-Visma had controlled the peloton all day, taking charge for the first time in this Giro, but they were usurped and exposed by Almeida and his UAE Team Emirates men.

Kuss being held back, Jumbo-Visma burned through the final carriage in their train, Rohan Dennis, before the end of the gentle mid-climb section, at which point UAE Took the reins through Davide Formolo and Brandon McNulty. But it was Jay Vine whose nuclear effort exploded the GC group for the first time at this race. In the blink of an eye, the day's breakaway was done for and the GC group, 20-strong until then, burst apart. As he handed over to Almeida 8.5km from the summit, only Thomas, Roglič, Kuss, and Dunbar could follow.

Almeida drove things on but, sensing a lull, launched a big attack with 5.8km to go. It looked like Roglič had it well under control, as Kuss held the gap at a few seconds, but with 4.5km to go Thomas suddenly nipped around and sprang across to Almeida as Roglič floundered. Thomas took responsibility for the next couple of kilometres and pushed the advantage to 30 seconds, but then, even as Almeida contributed for the final 3km, Kuss, Roglič, and Dunbar managed to plug the hole in the ship.

In the end, it felt like Roglič could count himself fortunate to have come off with only a minor scrape, but Almeida and Thomas will smell blood as the mountains rack up in this final week.

"I'm super-happy, it's a dream come true," said Almeida, celebrating his first Grand Tour stage win. "After four years [at the Giro] I was always so far and so close at the same time. Finally I got it so yeah I'm super, super happy."

With race leader Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ) dropped further down the final climb, Thomas moved back into the pink jersey, now leading the Giro by 18 seconds over Almeida, who claimed 10 bonus seconds for the win to the Welshman's six.

Roglič is now third at 29 seconds, with a big gap from the podium places to the rest. Caruso technically moved up two places to fourth but is now 2:50 down, 13 seconds on Dunbar, who rose three places to fifth.

A frantic start

There were three non-starters, with the ill Davide Ballerini leaving Soudal-QuickStep with just two riders, while Simon Clarke (Israel-Premier Tech) and Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Trek-Segafredo) leaving the race with just 129 riders, 47 down on the full set of starters.

With rare blue skies and sunshine hitting the waters of Lake Garda, the stage started out in rip-roaring fashion, the opening hour on the undulating lakeside roads run off at an average speed of 52 kph. There was a small three-man breakaway in the opening kilometres but it didn't stick as others probed and waited for the right moment.

The speed saw an early spill through a roundabout, leaving Laurens De Plus (Ineos Grenadiers) and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) chasing. Soon after, there was a split in the peloton, so when those two returned, they did so to a reduced bunch that was chasing the main pack. With big names like Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) in there, it was a dangerous moment but they did make contact again after 35km of racing.

At that point, Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) had gone up the road in a five-man break but that too was snuffed out as Aurélien Paret-Peintre (AG2R Citroën), 13th overall, kicked off a new wave of attacks. It turned out to be the decisive moment for the formation of the break as a big group went clear.

In it were: Aurélien Paret-Peintre, Valentin Paret-Peintre (AG2R Citroën), Salvatore Puccio, Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers), Jack Haig, Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), Christian Scaroni (Astana Qazaqstan), Jonathan Lastra (Cofidis), Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost), Martin Marcellusi, Alessandro Tonelli (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè),  Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech), Carlos Verona (Movistar), Michael Hepburn, Filippo Zana (Jayco-AlUla), Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo) and Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates).

A chase group then went, and grew in number as they scrambled across. In there were: Patrick Konrad, Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Thomas Champion (Cofidis), Vadim Pronskiy (Astana Qazaqstan), Mattia Bais (Eolo-Kometa), Davide Gabburo, Filippo Magli (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè), Nicolas Dalla Valle, Veljko Stojnić (Team Corratec-Selle Italia).

As that group pinged across, the peloton finally eased off, with many taking nature breaks. Groupama-FDJ, the team of race leader Armirail, initially declined to hit the front, so, with Ineos having two riders in the break, Jumbo-Visma were forced to blink and control the race for the first real time at this Giro. From a GC perspective, the danger men in the break were Paret-Peintre at 4:30 from Armirail (but 3:20 from Thomas and Roglič), plus Haig at 7:48 and Konrad at 9:06.

The first climb, the first-category Passo Santa Barbara (12.7km at 8.3%) came after 65km, with 138km remaining, and despite the steep slopes the race settled into a calm pattern. Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) led the bunch, and FDJ did then start to contribute through Jake Stewart. Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) fended off a two-up Green Project attack to claim the maximum allocation of 40 mountains points and move into the virtual lead of the KOM standings. The peloton followed over the summit just over three minutes down, with Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) in trouble after already being at the back from the start.

After a very short descent, the road kicked back uphill for the category 3 Passo Bordala, where Healy this time was undone by the two-up Green Project approach, with Marcellusi opening from range as Gabburo followed in Healy's wheel before picking him off at the line. The peloton, still led by Affini and Stewart, followed at just under three minutes.

There were a couple of testing nudges from the breakaways' local riders on the 15km descent, but the breakaway remained together for the intermediate sprint at Rovereto just past the half-way mark, where maglia ciclamino Milan comfortably fended off an ambush from Skujins, with Gee following for a third place that bolstered his surprising tally in the points classification. Job done, Milan then sat up and waited for the bunch.

It was then straight onto the day's third climb, the cat 2 Matassone, where Vadim Pronskiy attacked and Christian Scaroni tagged along to make it an Astana two-up. By the top, they had opened a lead of 1:40 over the rest of the break, with Green Project again hustling Healy to put Gabburo ahead of him. The peloton followed at 5:25.

The subsequent 20km descent - interrupted by a few kickers - was wet, and saw a brief counter-attack from Marcellusi before a more sustained one from Benedetti. By the start of the penultimate climb, the cat-2 Serrada (17.7km at 5.5%), Pronskiy and Scaroni led the race by two minutes over Benedetti, with the rest of the break 40 seconds further back, and the peloton - with Thomas having stopped for a nature break - at 6:10.

On the Serrada climb the pace was lifted in all groups. The break started to fragment as Haig and then the Paret-Peintre brothers pushed it on, catching Benedetti, and going on to catch the Astana duo in the final two kilometres of the climb. In the peloton, Affini gave a huge turn to empty the tank before finally swinging off, handing over to Sam Oomen as Jumbo-Visma continued to lift the pace and thin the peloton.

At the summit, with 50km to go, Verona beat Healy to the KOM points as the break was down to 12, the others being the Paret-Peintre brothers, Haig, Konrad, Swift, Gee, Pronskiy, Lastra, Zana, and Ulissi. Oomen led the reduced peloton of 40 riders over at 4:30 as Sivakov climbed off his bike and abandoned the Giro.

Monte Bondone

After an 18km descent, there was a short stretch in the valley, where Haig helped himself to three bonus seconds at the second intermediate sprint, ahead of the final climb of Monte Bondone (21.4km at 6.7%). The bunch trailed the 12 leaders by 3:30.

On the lower slopes of Monte Bondone, Verona quickly kicked off the attacking, with Zana joining, while Gee, Healy, and Valentin Paret-Peintre the first to fall away, followed by Lastra. Ulissi and Swift also initially lost contact but worked their way back as the group reformed 17.5km from the top, with eight left.

In the peloton, Michel Hessman, having led through the valley for Jumbo-Visma, did the early kilometres before handing over to Rohan Dennis, who lifted the paces to such an extent that Koen Bouwman dropped without even doing a turn. The pink jersey Armirail also started to suffer and slip down the group, which only counted 20 riders.

Dennis ended his turn under the 15km-to-go banner, but there was no one left in the Jumbo train, only Sepp Kuss who sat back with Roglič. After some looking around, UAE, the strongest team in terms of numbers, took responsibility, with Formolo, McNulty, and Vine forming a new train ahead of Almeida. Geraint Thomas, meanwhile, had Thymen Arensman and Laurens De Plus, with Swift still up the road.

Things held on the relatively gentle mid-climb section, with the eight escapees 1:10 up on the 20-rider GC group. However, there was a change with 10km to go as Vine took over from Formolo and the pink jersey Armirail finally lost contact. Up front, the steep stuff hit and Swift and Ulissi were both dropped, with Swift dropping straight back through the GC group.

Vine continue to ratchet up the pressure, and Thibaut Pinot was dropped on a day to forget for FDJ, while another high-profile drop soon came in the form of Hugh Carthy. Vine quickly wiped out the breakaway 8.5km from the summit, and as they caught them the GC group was ripped apart. Only Thomas, Roglič, Kuss, and Dunbar could follow as Vine pulled away and handed over to Almeida. Zana had managed to stick in to support Dunbar and, after some looking around from the favourites, the Italian champion came through to set the pace in what was a six-man group.

The chase group comprised Damiano Caruso and his Bahrain Victorious teammate Santiago Buitrago, Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM), Diego Rubio (Movistar), Ilan Van Wilder (Soudal-QuickStep), and the Ineos duo of Arensman and De Plus. Carthy worked his way across but they continued to lose time.

With 6.7km from the top and the gap reaching 30 seconds, Zana pulled aside and Almeida took it up. He added 10 seconds to the lead but there was a lull as no one wanted to take control, and so Almeida launched a full-scale attack with 5.8km to go. Kuss then did take responsibility to control, holding Almeida at a few seconds for a full kilometre.

Full-on cracks appeared with 4.5km to go, as Dunbar lost the wheel, and then Thomas nipped around Kuss to link up with Almeida, riding smoothly away from Roglič in the process. Kuss had to look around to check on his leader, and it was panic stations for Roglič and Jumbo-Visma. 

Almeida slotted in as Thomas pushed the gap out to 15 seconds with 4km to go, and to 30 seconds with 3km to go. At that point, Almeida came through for a turn but Roglic, led by Kuss and with Dunbar in tow, dug in and stemmed the tide, holding the gap at 30 seconds. Going into the final kilometre, Thomas and Almeida prepared to settle it in a sprint, while Kuss pulled aside and Roglič hit out behind to limit the damage.

Almeida opened the sprint with 150 metres to go and Thomas could only sprint into the slipstream, and not out of it. Roglič finished strongly to stop the clock on 25 seconds but the direction of this Giro might not be going his way.


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Patrick Fletcher
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.

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