João Almeida emptied a rather suspect sachet of red sauce into a tupperware box of pasta after he took a seat for his post-race press conference atop Monte Bondone. Cue gasps from a horrified sala stampa. For some, questions about his victory on stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia would have to wait until he had accounted for this outrage.
“Don’t tell the nutritionist, but it’s ketchup,” Almeida confirmed to murmurs of disapproval from the front row. It was the only false step of a day that saw the Portuguese rider insert himself firmly into the picture as a potential overall winner of this race in Rome on Sunday evening.
After two weeks of relative inertia, the general classification battle finally picked up some momentum on the road to Monte Bondone. Perhaps it was only to be anticipated, given the severity of a day that featured some 5,200m of total climbing. More surprising, however, was the identity of the rider who eventually prised this race open as the gradient stiffened into double digits.
After his UAE Team Emirates companion Jay Vine had whittled down the group of favourites midway up the interminable climb, Almeida accelerated with a shade under 6km remaining. A kilometre or so later, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) managed to bridge across, but Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) was betraying signs of difficulty further down the mountain.
“I just did the best effort I could, I was hoping for the best,” Almeida said of his initial attack. “I was a bit surprised that Geraint came like a fucking rocket. I was like, so surprised, and I tried to follow him. I was suffering to the end, but we did very good work together.”
The finale of this Giro was expected to be coloured by a duel between Thomas and Roglič, but Almeida showed himself to be much more than the race’s third man with his aggression here. Victory in the two-up sprint against Thomas sees him move up to second overall, 18 seconds behind the Welshman and 11 ahead of Roglič, who lost almost half a minute in the closing kilometres.
“I’ve been so close to the win in a Grand Tour so many times, so I think this was a step forwards for my career and also for my confidence,” Almeida said. “I think I am still the same rider, but this shows that maybe I’m doing things right.”
Almeida wears the white jersey of best young rider, but he is already a youthful veteran of this race, having competed at the Giro in each of his four seasons as a professional. As a neophyte…
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