It was a Giro d'Italia rest day comment from João Almeida that went under the radar. Sitting in his team’s hotel facing reporters, the Portuguese, fourth on GC and 22 seconds back from Geraint Thomas the de-facto leader, confidently declared: “I always say I will attack when my legs feel good.”
No-one gave any weight to what he said. There was far more interest in his admission that “the past few weeks have been somewhat boring for the fans”. This was João Almeida, the same young lad who captivated the cycling world in the autumn of 2020 when he unexpectedly held on to the maglia rosa for 15 days, but has failed to generate the same level of enthusiasm since, despite riding to a fourth, a fifth, and a sixth in his other Grand Tour appearances, and cruelly abandoning the Giro last year on stage 17 while sitting fourth overall.
We have gotten accustomed to seeing the 24-year-old in the hunt for GC wins, but in today’s era of full-throttle racing and long-range attacks, cycling fandom generally now doesn’t have much time for conservatism and for staying in the front group without attempting to overhaul others. We don’t want nor warm to Steven Kruijswijks and Emanuel Buchmanns populating the top positions on GC - we want attackers, riders who will go deep to risk it all, Pogačars, Vingegaards and Evenepoels.
Almeida hasn’t really ever been that sort of rider.
Almeida instigated the moves on the Monte Bondone (RCS Sport)
Yes, there have been attacks to win in the past: stage 16 of the Giro in 2020 to extend his lead in pink; twice at the Tour of Poland the year after; and taking time on stage 17 of the Vuelta in 2022. But they have all been two things: one, isolated, and two, attacks close to the line, not quite sprints but late moves designed to eek out as many seconds as possible in a short timeframe. Roglič-esque, you might call it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; Primož Roglič has made quite a career out of doing just that.
But to see Almeida loosening his own shackles on stage 16 of this year’s Giro, attacking from far out - 5.9km to the line - and then holding onto win ahead of Geraint Thomas (the race leader once again) felt like a significant milestone in Almeida’s development. His team have invested heavily in him, placed huge amounts of faith and trust in his abilities, but until the steep slopes of Monte Bondone they hadn’t yet been treated to a show from the man they have under contract until the end of 2026.
How delighted they will be to see him take his first Grand Tour stage, move up to second overall (now 18 seconds adrift of Thomas who was equally as impressive), and give himself a terrific chance of winning pink. It’s too easy to be caught up in the moment, but it’s hard not to escape the feeling that if Almeida can make a habit of what he did on the sixteenth stage and more frequently attack from further out to really open up a race, and then marry that to his strong time trialling skills (a fact often overlooked), his status from almost-there-but-not-quite could be about to be wiped out - and that’s a good thing for cycling fans who crave brave racing.
Cover image by Zac Williams/SWPix