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João Almeida on Giro d’Italia breakthrough: ‘Never in my wildest dreams’

Joâo Almeida wasn't even supposed to start the Giro d'Italia, and ended up delivering a two-week run in the pink jersey.

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One of the revelations in 2020 was Portuguese WorldTour rookie João Almeida, who wore the pink jersey for two weeks, and finished fourth overall in the Giro d’Italia.

Almeida, 22, was one of the stars of a wild Giro ride that saw Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) take the flowers, with Sunweb rounding out the podium with Jai Hindley and Wilco Kelderman. Standing in the way was a surprised and stubborn Almeida, who confirmed his talent during an impressive three-week run in his grand tour debut.

The Giro started off with a bang in Palermo, where Almeida was second in the opening time trial.

“I was pretty confident and motivated, but never in my wildest dreams would I have dreamed of being on the podium on my first ever grand tour stage,” Almeida said on the Deceuninck-Quick-Step team website. “To finish runner-up in the Palermo individual time trial was insane, with so many strong time trialists in the race, but that ride gave me wings and made me think that I could end up in the pink jersey in a couple of days, knowing that [Filippo] Ganna wasn’t a climber.”

Almeida overtook the maglia rosa on Mount Etna, and held it all the way to the Stelvio, a full two-week run in pink.

“The team was amazing, I gave everything to try and take the jersey, and when I got word that I had managed it for the smallest of margins I was stunned. I just couldn’t believe it,” Almeida recounted. “From that point on, I got to experience an astonishing 15 days in the overall lead and I can tell you that every single time I had that iconic jersey on my shoulders I felt a huge confidence boost, motivation, and responsibility.”

Almeida held on longer than most expected from the 22-year-old, fending off attacks before succumbing deep into the final week.

“I lost it on the Stelvio – another stage I’ll never forget – but not because I was weak, but because others were stronger,” he said. “I emptied myself there, but it was a bit too long and too hard, especially as it came after several demanding days that really took their toll on me. … I carried on and managed to finish fourth overall, which was massive for my first Grand Tour participation.”

Vincenzo Nibali and João Almeida at the 2020 Giro d'Italia
Vincenzo Nibali and João Almeida at the 2020 Giro d’Italia. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images