Joao Almeida is in the driving seat as Deceuninck-QuickStep’s de facto general classification leader after his performance on stage 1 of the Giro d’Italia.
The Portuguese rider wore the maglia rosa for 14 stages in the 2020 edition of the race and could be set for another run in pink this year.
He outperformed his teammates Remi Cavagna (who had been fancied as a potential winner of the stage today) and Remco Evenepoel, who came into this 104th edition of the Italian Grand Tour as one of the top three favourites.
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While nothing should be taken away from Evenepoel’s impressive seventh today, especially given it was his first competitive ride since August last year, it was clear that of the two potential leaders for Deceuninck’s GC campaign Almeida is the stronger of the two.
A fully-fit Evenepoel should beat Almeida in most time trials. The latter has never beaten the former in a TT. Now the onus is on Almeida to lead the team from the front if he wants to secure his position at the top of the Wolfpack’s pecking order.
Almeida’s earliest opportunity to take pink this year would be stage four, with the next two days in the race unlikely to provide any sort of major time gains.
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Stage four is a hilly route with an uphill finale – without getting too high for Almeida, who memorably and heroically lost the Giro lead in 2020 on the dizzyingly high slopes of the Stelvio. Tuesday’s ascent of the Colle Passerino goes to just 1,040m above sea level but is long enough and steep enough to present some opportunities.
If Almeida can find four seconds on Jumbo-Visma’s Tobias Foss, he will likely take the maglia rosa – unless Filippo Ganna has packed his climbing legs and has the strength to hang on.
It is questionable whether the team of Jumbo-Visma will even want the jersey from so early in the race, so it could even be Almeida’s for the taking.
After the race, Almeida said: "It's good to get a good result again. I felt good, which is as important and I'm super happy that there's a good time gap between me and the other GC guys, let's keep it that way. It's always right to start on the right foot as we say, and if we can keep the consistency, then I think we can do a good Giro again.”
When asked about the chances he might pursue the pink jersey once again, he sounded an optimistic note.
"Everything is possible, like last year. We still have to consider things, it can go in so many different ways and we can't control the other guys and the other teams, but I think it's looking good. We have a really strong team to do a good job."
With so many riders taking a “day-by-day” approach to this year’s Giro, and so many unproven or unknown quantities in the mix, to make predictions about who will be deciding the fate of the maglia rosa in three weeks' time is way too premature. However, after one day of the 21, we can tentatively observe that Almeida is looking in very good shape to carry the flag for Deceuninck-QuickStep.
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