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Giro d'Italia

João Almeida: Finishing on the Giro d’Italia podium would ‘be like a victory for me’

The Portuguese rider believes that Mikel Landa will be the most dangerous rider in the third week and that the Mortirolo descent will 'blow up' the race.

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CASTENDOLO, Italy (VN) — Securing his first grand tour podium at the Giro d’Italia would be “like a victory,” according to João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates).

The 23-year-old is racing in what is the third grand tour of his career and his third try at the Giro’s GC.

“A podium spot would be like a victory for me,” Almeida told VeloNews at his team’s rest day hotel just south of Brescia.

“To be in the top three guys is totally special. I was close for 2020 and it was really good for me. I was really happy, so if I can get the one better and being the final podium is always special. So yeah, if I get third at least I’m happy with my performance.”

Almeida made his name as a general classification rider at the 2020 edition of the Italian race, finishing a surprise fourth place after a lengthy stint in the leader’s pink jersey.

There is still a week to go and a series of challenging mountain stages to come, but he is currently on course to finally improve on his debut result.

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After two weeks of racing, Almeida is third overall at 30 seconds back from the race leader Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), with Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) 27 seconds ahead in second.

For a time, he looked like he might get back into the pink jersey two years after wearing it for the first time, but a difficult day on the bike during Saturday’s chaotic stage around Turin pushed him back to third place.

He faired better than some others and he currently has a 29-second buffer to Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), who is in fourth place.

“Two days ago, the circuit in Turin was a big mess with big gaps. I’m almost happy to lose only 30 seconds, in terms of GC,” he said. “Yesterday, it was hard to stage more climbing, but there were no differences.

“I think I’m in the perfect position. I’m 30 seconds from Richard. Things have been pretty good, I think. So yeah, we go to this final week to try to not lose any time, keeping up with the best riders and seeing what we can do.”

With Landa so close behind him, but with also such a big gap to the overall race lead, Almeida sees the Basque rider as perhaps the most dangerous rider in the coming week.

“Jai we know is strong and Carapaz has the pink jersey, so he’s strong also, but I think Landa might maybe have something to say,” Almeida said. “He has one minute to take back to Richard, so maybe Bahrain will do something tomorrow on the descent.

“Being one minute back. Maybe Ineos will give them a bit of space, and then maybe they don’t get it but yeah, it’s always tricky.”

Blowing up the race

The final week of the 2022 Giro will start with something of a bang with a 202k stage from Salò to Aprica that takes in an ascent of the Mortirolo. The formidable climb was last featured in the race in 2019, so Almeida has not raced it before.

The peloton will approach from the Edolo side — for the first time since the climb’s Giro d’Italia debut in 1990 — and will be climbing for some time before the official start of the ascent. With an average of 7.6 percent and a maximum of 16 percent, it is one of the “easier” sides of the climb, but Almeida believes it will be the downhill section that will have the biggest impact.

“I did it one time in a car, but with a bike I’ve never,” Almeida said. “It’s steep, it’s a hard climb and for sure, it’s going to be technical. It’s going to blow the bunch in pieces. I think it’s more the descent than the climb, in my opinion.

“It’s far from the finish line, but it’s all up and down. So, in the end, it’s the same for everybody. I would say maybe Bora [would try something] and I’d say Ineos will take it not so risky. Like always, they don’t really take risk on descents. You can always expect Nibali attacking on a descent. I don’t know. In the end, it’s going to be maybe a little bit surprising.”

The final week of the Giro will be a grueling battle to the end with four tough mountain stages to come. Almeida says that it will be about measuring his effort so that he doesn’t blow before the finish.

“It’s a long week so if you spend all the bullets tomorrow it’s still a hard week,” he said. “If I feel good, but maybe not tomorrow. Because there are some really hard days still coming up, especially the day before the TT. I think that’s going to be the real queen stage Saturday. If I feel good, of course, I’m going try something but always keep in mind the next days.”

While Almeida will try to make up some time in the coming mountain stages, he also has the comfort of the final time trial. He is possibly the strongest time trialist in the current GC top 10, though Nibali pushed him close in the opening TT test.

The final TT around Verona is a different prospect and Almeida believes there is time to be made there, though it won’t be huge.

“It’s quite a specialty time trial, not like a flat city one where it’s more simple,” he explained. “I think the gaps are not going to be that big like they normally are. I think maybe 30 seconds maximum. Of course, I really need I need to have the legs and feel good. It’s a bit relative sometimes.

“There were a lot of corners in the first time trial, and all those corners in a city can be quite dangerous. So, I lost some time. But if we check the data of the straights and the climb, I think I’ll be maybe one of the top guys, but the corners were there.”