The Portuguese is just four seconds off the overall lead.
Seven classified climbs, lashing rain and slippery roads made for an attritional day in the saddle at the Tour de Luxembourg, which got off to a quiet start before things became more hectic in the final 30 kilometers. Victorious on the opening stage and clad in the leader’s yellow jersey, João Almeida was surrounded by his Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammates, who took over the reins and kept in check the four men who animated the 186.1km stage.
Mattia Cattaneo, Dries Devenyns, Fausto Masnada, Pieter Serry and Mauri Vansevenant did again a wonderful job in the service of Almeida, pegging back the breakaway with around 30 kilometers to go and helping the Portuguese pick up three important bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint. Soon after, the pace went up again and one rider put the pressure on the overall leader of the race, but the Wolfpack was again there, duly making up ground and reeling in the lone attacker at the base of the final climb, one averaging 8.4% over 3.1 kilometers.
A flurry of attacks whittled down the group to just a handful of riders, and Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) took advantage of this to go clear on the steepest section and solo to a victory that landed him the yellow jersey on his shoulders. Almeida led the chasing group over the line eight seconds behind and took runner-up in Eschdorf, a result that saw him slip to second in the overall standings but keep hold of the points jersey.
“It was a hard day and the goal was to not lose too much time. The team was great and I am grateful for how they rode for me, nullifying the breakaway and protecting me perfectly. I’m content with how things went on this tough parcours that didn’t give any moment of respite and with the fact that at the end of the day the gaps are small, that’s the most important thing”, said João after the podium ceremony.
Photo credit: ©Bas Czerwinski / Getty Images