The Portuguese rider extended his GC lead on a stage that teammate Davide Ballerini finished in third place.
The ninth different rider in the history of our team to wear the iconic maglia rosa, João Almeida was resplendent in his prestigious tunic at the start of the race’s fourth stage, which travelled from Catania to Villafranca Tirrena, a small Sicilian town making its debut at the Corsa Rosa. The peloton took it quite easy in the first part of the day, allowing a three-man breakaway to zip clear as soon as the flag was dropped, before ramping up the pace on the Portella Mandrazzi climb, where several sprinters were spat out the back.
On the wet descent, the pace didn’t abate as several teams continues to push so that those distanced wouldn’t return in the pack. Protected at all times by his Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammates, Almeida remained near the front of the bunch, and with 25 kilometers to go he got in the mix at the intermediate sprint. A perfect lead-out of Davide Ballerini helped the 22-year-old claim bonifications and increase his lead in the overall standings to two seconds, ensuring another day in the maglia rosa.
“It was a nice day out there, but it was made a bit complicated by the big tempo some of the teams drove on the climb. I remained attentive and fortunately I had a great team around me, which kept me out of the wind and was of big help on the tricky descent. Knowing I was tied on the GC with Caicedo, I went for the intermediate sprints and those two seconds I bagged in made me calmer before the final. I am happy to have retained my jersey, it was really special to have it on my shoulders today, and we will continue to take it one stage at a time and see what happens”, a smiling João said.
The bunch sprint was very hectic, a series of tight corners making it very difficult for a team to control affairs. Davide Ballerini expertly surfed wheels as the finish drew closer, despite an unexpected challenge, and kicked out with 150 meters to go, giving it his all in a mad dash to the line. For a matter of centimeters, the 26-year-old Italian finished third, behind Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), taking his first ever podium in a Grand Tour.
“The sprint was incredible, so close. I couldn’t believe how small the gap was. I felt good, but unfortunately, my position was ruined with two kilometers to go, when I had to avoid a stray dog. That cost me several places, and I had to use some valuable energy to come back, but despite everything I am content and confident for the upcoming stages”, Ballerini explained.
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