The 22-year-old is set to wear the maglia rosa on the race’s queen stage.
João Almeida enjoyed a surprisingly quiet day at the Corsa Rosa, which Wednesday afternoon travelled from Bassano del Grappa to Madonna di Campiglio, taking on four classified climbs – including the mythical Monte Bondone – where Charly Gaul turned the race on its head 64 years ago, surging to victory and the pink jersey with a long-range attack.
This time, as the peloton started the 20.2km-long climb, Deceuninck – Quick-Step was at the front, doing the same superb job they have for the past couple of weeks for the young leader of the season’s second Grand Tour. Iljo Keisse put in a huge pull at the front and controlled affairs, while Almeida was flanked by five more teammates, all ready to take over the reins and continue the pace-setting. On Madonna di Campiglio, James Knox stepped in until a big attack with five kilometers to go shed out the back many riders, leaving about twelve men in what became the pink jersey group, which was trailing eventual winner Ben O’Connor (NTT Pro Cycling) by five minutes.
Fausto Masnada then made sure no one would try to unseat the 22-year-old Portuguese, who swiftly closed a gap opened by his rivals before moving onto the wheel of the experienced Italian. Masnada expertly paced him on the last kilometers of the climb and João crossed the line – after six hours in the saddle and over 5500 vertical meters – together with all the other general classification contenders, maintaining his 17-second advantage over the nearest opponent.
“Knowing the gap was small at the start of this long stage packing four classified ascents, I was thinking that I could lose the jersey today, but I surprised myself. I felt very good and I could rely again on a huge team, who did an excellent work controlling the bunch and rode their hearts out for me. Towards the final, my opponents tested me, but I felt good and immediately marked them.”
“Now it’s time to recover and prepare for Thursday’s stage. It will be very hard, especially as the temperature will be low at over 2700 meters, but at the end of the day it’s the same for everybody. I am ready to fight and honour this iconic jersey on the iconic climb that is the Stelvio. I know it, as I did it before, I’m confident and I am ready for anything”, added Almeida, who now has 15 consecutive stages in the maglia rosa.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images