Volta Ciclista a Catalunya
Stage 4) Ripoll - Port Ainé
Spain Thursday 25 March 2021 166.5 km
Volta a Catalunya: Almeida passes a tough mountain test
Thursday brought a crazy and chaotic start to the 166.5km stage between Ripoll and Port Ainé, which was another mountainous affair containing no fewer than three hard classified climbs. The most taxing of these was the last one, an 18.6km mammoth ascent averaging 6.8%, where the fight the GC contenders had ignited on Vallter 2000 was expected to continue. More than a dozen riders tried to escape the peloton’s clutches early on, including James Knox, but the bunch reacted furiously and brought back all the moves that came in the first 30 kilometers.
After one hour of racing, a large group finally got green light and established a three-minute gap which didn’t help their cause, as the chasers swept them by the time the final ascent started. A strong pace meant the group was whittled down to about 15-20 men with more than ten kilometers to go, both James Knox and Fausto Masnada being there and working hard for João Almeida, Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s highest-ranked rider in the overall.
The youngest rider in the top 10, João rode again admirably, managing to stay with the select group despite the numerous injections of pace at the front and being slightly distanced with just 400 meters remaining. Gritting his teeth, the revelation of last year’s Giro d’Italia finished only a few seconds behind the group and despite slipping to seventh in the standings, he is still within touch of the podium and in control of the best young rider classification.
“Today was another hard day at the office, with high mountain and tough gradients, but I had the team with me and they did a beautiful job, protecting me and making sure I was in a good position at the start of the final climb. I was happy to be there with all those big GC guys, and even though I got dropped with 400 meters remaining, I am satisfied with my ride. I will try to keep my place in the top 10 and take home the white jersey, but if there will be an opportunity to gain some places over the next three days, I will go for it”, Almeida said after the last summit finish of the race.
Photo credit: ©David Ramos/Getty Images