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Can João Almeida pull on pink when it matters most?
The 2022 Giro d’Italia could be his best chance yet.
Almeida leads a pack of UAE Team Emirates climbing talent at next month’s Giro in what will be his first grand tour since he left Quick-Step this winter.
The Portuguese talent broke out with an against-all-odds 15 days in the maglia rosa in 2020 before flaming out at the last moment to finish fourth.
After proving he was no one-hit-wonder with a ride to sixth in last year’s Giro, Almeida is back for more.
“This is a special race for me, I have great memories here and I’m excited to come back together with a great team looking for some good results together,” he said.
Almeida heads up a UAE Team Emirates Giro squad that brings firepower and experience.
Fernando Gaviria will scrap for sprint stages with longtime leadout man Max Richeze.
Diego Ulissi, Rui Costa, Davide Formolo, and Alessandro Covi bring further attacking threat and support for Almeida in the mountains. Rui Oliveira completes the eight.
“We’re excited to be coming into the Giro with a strong team. Almeida will be our man for the general classification and I think we have a team more than capable of supporting him,” said sport director Fabio Baldato.
Almeida’s best chance yet?
This year’s Giro could be 23-year-old Almeida’s big chance to confirm his potential.
A breakout two weeks at his debut Corsa Rosa in 2020 put the Portuguese talent on the grand tour map, finishing fourth after clinging tight to a pink jersey few expected him to ever own.
He returned to the Italian tour last year as part of a Quick-Step team that initially clustered around Remco Evenepoel. Almeida gave Evenepoel his wheel for more than two weeks but was left pole-axed when the young Belgian abandoned just three days from the final.
With a pack of climbing stars by his side and a string of three GC top-10s this season, Almeida will be one of many elbowing alongside standout riders Richard Carapaz and Simon Yates in a wide-open edition of the Giro.
“The preparation for the Giro has gone really well,” he said. “Since my last race I’ve been training at altitude in Sierra Nevada, Spain with some of my teammates and we have an excellent group assembled.
“Obviously my aim is to do a good GC, but we also have Fernando for the sprints and many guys who have won here at the Giro before. We can’t wait to get it started.”
The one thing that Almeida may be less excited about is the relative lack of TT kilometers in this year’s race.
Almeida’s time trial talents typically bank him seconds over pure-climber classification rivals when he races against the clock. Just 26km of time trialing at this year’s Giro will see Almeida lose an ace from his sleeve – so he’ll have to work all the harder in the mountains.
Gaviria goes up against some of the world’s fastest
The Colombian speedster contracted COVID for a third – yes, third – time this winter but doesn’t look any the slower for it.
Two victories and five more top-6 finishes so far this season put Gaviria in a good place to scrap for a sixth Giro stage win next month.
Gaviria and long-time leadout man Richeze will have a stacked sprint field to fight.
Mark Cavendish, Caleb Ewan, Biniam Girmay, and Giacomo Nizzolo will all be in the frame for up to seven sprint opportunities before the Giro’s mountainous final week.
“Gaviria is also back from injury and is looking good again so we’ll have that card to play in the sprint stages,” sport director Baldato said. “We have huge experience among our line-up and we are motivated for what we hope will be a beautiful race.”
UAE Emirates Giro d’Italia team
- João Almeida
- Fernando Gaviria
- Rui Costa
- Alessandro Covi
- Davide Formolo
- Diego Ulissi
- Rui Oliveira
- Max Richeze