It could have gone a lot worse for João Almeida on stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia. If Jay Vine hadn’t been there, it almost certainly would have. After shaking the race with his attack at Monte Bondone two days previously, Almeida found himself in the damage limitation business at Val di Zoldo. The Giro giveth and the Giro taketh away.
On Tuesday, Almeida’s stage victory had lifted him ahead of Primoz Roglič and into second overall. Here, he conceded 21 seconds to the Slovenian and to maglia rosa Geraint Thomas after being distanced on the penultimate ascent of Coi, dropping to third overall at 39 seconds in the process.
Almeida remains in the hunt to win this race in Rome on Sunday, but the path to victory that opened up so invitingly 48 hours earlier has now narrowed and steepened considerably. In the mixed zone afterwards, someone asked if the three men atop the overall standings still held similar chances of claiming the Trofeo Senza Fine. Almeida shook his head.
“I think Geraint is looking very good and Primož also,” Almeida said. “I think the percentages are a little bit bigger for them.”
The first instalment of the Giro’s three-part finale in the mountains saw some unexpected early frissons when Roglič was very briefly distanced by a split on the Passo della Crosetta, but the true separation would come on the penultimate ascent of Coi. At this point in the Giro, the difference is made by pedalling rather than positioning.
As the gradient ratcheted into the double-digits, Almeida was unable to withstand the pace laid down by Sepp Kuss for his Jumbo-Visma teammate Roglič. Thomas and Eddie Dunbar (Jayco-Alula) were able to follow, while Almeida was forced into the umpteenth fightback of his Giro career.
In the mountains over the years, Almeida has pulled off more remontadas than Real Madrid, often alone. This time out, he had precious company in his UAE Team Emirates comrade Vine, who worked to stitch the race back together on the upper reaches of Coi. The Australian almost succeeded, too, dragging his leader back to within sight of the pink jersey group as they crested the summit with a little over 5km to go.
“João was telling me when to slow down and when to speed up,” Vine said. “I think he did really well to limit the losses.”
Over the other side, however, Almeida’s challenge almost unravelled altogether when Vine overshot a corner. Vine, mercifully, avoided crashing, but the incident would leave Almeida alone for the final kick to the line. A…
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