Our 22-year-old Grand Tour debutant became the first Portuguese in more than three decades to lead the race.
João Almeida kept hitting new heights, moving into the Giro d’Italia overall lead after the race’s first mountain stage, which took the peloton atop the mighty Etna. Almeida, who since the start of the season gave indications of his blossoming talents in several stage races, dazzled again, this time against a stellar field that included Grand Tour and Monument winners.
Despite his young age and the lack of experience in three-week races, the strong winds and the powerful attacks made by the GC contenders inside the last four kilometers of the stage, João climbed exceptionally at the race’s sixth visit on Etna, the mountain where, according to the Greek mythology, Zeus trapped the monster Typhon who had challenged him for the supremacy of the cosmos.
Almeida began the day in the white jersey, which he had on loan, aware that he had a shot of donning the famous maglia rosa at the end of the day on the same ascent where his countryman Acacio da Silva became the first ever Portuguese to top the Giro d’Italia GC, 31 years ago. While Jonathan Caicedo (EF First) soloed to victory from the breakaway, the chasers had their own battle, and João showed incredible mental and physical resilience as he tried to stay with the best and limit the losses when cracks began to form in the elite group.
As he crossed the line in 11th place, one minute down on the winner, the 22-year-old was sure of a visit to the podium to collect the white jersey, but was soon announced that he is expected to take also the pink jersey, a huge but at the same time well deserved moment in the young career of the Caldas da Rainha native.
“Leading a Grand Tour is a dream come true! This performance left me speechless, I can barely find the words to describe how I feel. The pace was high on the last climb, so I just tried to control my effort. When the wind began blowing hard close to the top, I did everything to just hang in there and make it through the pain. It was a sufferfest until the finish, but I emptied myself out there, because we are the Wolfpack and we always give our best”, said the third Portuguese rider in history to lead a Grand Tour. “I am happy and proud to wear this iconic maglia rosa, which I will try to keep as much as I can, this I promise.”
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images