Giro d'Italia

João Almeida finally loses Giro d’Italia pink: ‘I’m proud of what I did’

João Almeida finally ceded the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia, but not without a fight. Now, the future looks extremely bright for the 22-year-old.

It’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of another for João Almeida.

Almeida, the revelation of the 2020 Giro d’Italia, finally saw his run in pink come to a close on Thursday’s Queen stage, which crossed the hulking Passo dello Stelvio before the summit finish to Laghi di Cancano. Almeida was dropped near the midpoint of the Stelvio, and despite mounting a valiant chase, the young Portuguese rider ceded pink on the brutal day.

He crossed the line in 7th place, 4:51 down on winner Jai Hindley of Team Sunweb, and tumbled from first to 5th place on GC, 2:16 down on Wilco Kelderman.

“It was a difficult stage. I fought as hard as I could, but it wasn’t enough today,” Almeida said. “It’s been a great two weeks in the pink jersey.”

“I was on the limit and I knew I could not go on that rhythm to the top,” he added. “I went on my pace to not lose too much time, they were just super strong, and I am not at that level.”

Almeida spent 15 days in the Giro’s pink jersey, and his dogged defense of the lead turned heads across the global cycling community. So, while his run in pink may have ended, a world of new opportunities could be opening for Almeida’s future. His ride this year is a sign that grand tour leadership is a task that Almeida can handle, even if he’s just 22 years old.

Nobody seems to recognize that more than Almeida.

“I have to be happy with what’s happened so far in this Giro. It gives me a lot of motivation for the future,” he said.

Throughout 2020 Almeida has proved in his WorldTour debut that he has the legs and racing intellect to achieve great things in the coming years. Almeida signed with Deceuninick–Quick-Step after a standout 2019 season with the American Under-23 development team Hagens Berman Axeon, where he turned heads at the Tour of Utah and Under-23 Giro Ciclistico d’Italia.

Young riders often struggle to adjust to the aggressive racing tactics and high speeds in the WorldTour peloton, but Almeida has been unafraid to strive for big results in 2020. When the WorldTour season returned to racing in August, Almeida emerged as a top contender at Spain’s Vuelta a Burgos, where he rode in support of eventual winner Remco Evenepoel.

Almeida was a close second to Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) on the opening stage, and then marked Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) and Ivan Sosa (Ineos Grenadiers) on the final summit finish to Lagunas de Neila.

Then, the following week, Almeida rode strongly at the Tour de l’Ain, trading barbs with top GC stars like Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) as they prepared for the Tour de France.

Those results were a sign that Almeida had strong legs and an aggressive spirit. Yet those results couldn’t have prepared anyone for Almeida’s breakthrough ride at the Giro. He seized the pink jersey on stage 3 and then held it well beyond when pundits assumed he’d falter, surviving the stage 14 individual time trial and the stage 15 summit finish to Piancavallo with the jersey still on his back.

“I’m proud of what I did,” Almeida said. “Losing the pink jersey is a shame, but the adversaries are stronger, there’s nothing I can do.”

Almeida said that his family greeted him atop the summit finish to celebrate his run in the leader’s jersey. When he saw his family, he was overcome by emotion.

“I had my family at the top, and some other Portuguese, and I cried with them because there was so much emotion,” he said. “I am content with what I’ve done until now, and I am so thankful for what the team did for me up to now.”

What does the future hold for the youngster? He’s on a two-year deal with Deceuninck–Quick-Step that runs through 2021. Historically, the Belgian squad has packed its ranks with riders for the cobbled classics and one-week stage races. But now, with the emergence of Evenepoel as a possible grand tour star, and Julian Alaphilippe maturing into a threat for stage wins, Deceuninck–Quick-Step has Almeida to add to its grand tour ranks.

And the 2020 Giro is far from over for Almeida. While he lost time on Thursday, Almeida is a top time trialist who can also attack on punchy climbs. The podium, or other prizes, could still be on offer.

“Tomorrow is a long day, with rain,” he said. “And we’ll just see how this Giro ends.”