João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) battled back to take fourth overall at the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, putting a cap on a breakout ride that saw him wear the pink jersey against-all-odds for 15 days.
Having taken everyone by surprise by jumping into the race lead after the third stage to Etna, the 22-year-old rookie hung tough to defy all expectations and hold on to the jersey all the way through to stage 17. Rather than crumbling and fading out altogether after dropping down to fifth on the monster mountain stage over the Stelvio, Almeida attacked repeatedly on the circuits around Sestriere on stage 20 and punched into fourth against the clock in the closing time trial in Milano.
Almeida’s tenacity vaulted him back up to fourth overall in his debut grand tour.
“I can’t put in words how happy I am, this is incredible, something I would have never dreamed of,” he said Sunday. “My goal three weeks ago was a top 10 finish, so the be fourth on the GC of this beautiful race is simply mind-blowing!”
Almeida’s remarkable rise at this year’s Giro coincides with Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s unexpected strength as a grand tour team. The classics-focussed squad packed its squad for Italy with the few climbers on its roster and finished up with three riders in the top-20: Almeida, Fausto Masnada (ninth), and James Knox (fourteenth).
Along with 26-year-old Masnada and 24-year-old Knox, Almeida and 20-year-old Remco Evenepoel give “The Wolfpack” a youthful bite away from the cobbles and climbs of chaos of one-day racing. Whether Quick-Step continues to push toward GC racing or not, the Portuguese all-rounder’s battling performance gave him confidence as he continues to discover his own capabilities.
“I discovered a lot of things about me here, I pushed myself mentally and gave everything every single time,” he said. “I leave this race with many beautiful memories, the best of these being the day when I seized the Maglia rRosa on Etna.”
“I am still young and will see what the future holds, but what I can tell you is that one day I hope to wear this iconic jersey again.”