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After that, it’s anyone’s bet who will have it by week’s end.
The 22-year-old faced the stiffest challenge yet to his two-week run in the maglia rosa during Sunday’ mountaintop finale, and carries a slender 15-second lead into Monday’s rest day.
“It was a very hard stage. The three riders on the front on the final climb were too fast for me,” Almeida said. “I was so focused on just doing the best I could. I was just giving everything to keep the jersey.”
Sunday’s Piancavallo summit finale reshuffled the GC deck a bit more than some expected. After two hard weeks of racing, everyone’s legs were under pressure.
Sunweb took the initiative on the final climb, setting a blistering pace that quickly fractured the GC group. Big names like Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), and Brandon McNulty (UAE-Emirates), who tumbled out of the top-10, were all in damage-control mode.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step kept Almeida with the ever-dwindling group under the blistering pace set by Sunweb. In the end, Jai Hindley, Wilco Kelderman, and eventual stage-winner Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) finally popped Almeida in the closing kilometers.
“I know my body and my limits, so I had to drop back,” Almeida said. “I’m happy to have managed to save the maglia rosa, once again thanks to my team.”
The grand tour rookie did not panic, and revealed impressive “grinta” by not collapsing despite tremendous pressure from Kelderman, who was poised to take pink if Almeida crumbled. Instead, he fought to the line and earned another trip to the podium.
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying I had a bad day, it’s just you can’t always be flawless,” Almeida said. “It was the hardest stage of the race so far, a proper sufferfest, and having survived it gives me a lot of joy and confidence. I will now enjoy the rest day and then continue to leave everything out there as I will try to hold the pink jersey”,
On Sunday, Kelderman trimmed his gap from 58 seconds to 15 seconds to Almeida, but the Portuguese phenomenon still holds the lead.
Monday’s rest day will give everyone a chance to regroup before a final week that is sure to see more GC shakeups.
How much longer can Almeida hang on? He already holds a record for the number of days in the pink jersey for a rider under 23.
Tuesday’s lumpy 229km 16th stage on paper favors a breakaway, though a finishing circuit featuring a third-category climb could see some flares from the GC riders.
The 203km, four-climb 17th stage on Wednesday across the Italian Alps finishes high on Maddona di Campiglio should see the next big GC battle.