Almeida breaks the seal with Poland victories


João Almeida, Deceuninck­Quick Step’s young Portuguese rider, has waited a comparativ­ely long time for his first profession­al wins, at least given the expectatio­ns which have surrounded him since his brilliant breakout season as a first-year pro in 2020. At the Vuelta a Burgos last year, he finished second, fifth and fourth on the key stages and came third overall. He was seventh in the Tour de l’Ain, second in the one-day Giro dell’Emilia and third on general classifica­tion in Settimana Coppi e Bartali. In the Giro d’Italia, he was in the top three four times on various stages, and the top

10 a further seven. He led the race from stage 3 until stage 18 and came fourth overall. There were so many placings in big races yet not a single victory. 2021 was no different. He achieved 22 top-10 placings up to the end of the Giro d’Italia, where he was sixth overall and showed scintillat­ing climbing form in the last week, and it was only at the Portuguese national time trial championsh­ips that he finally broke his duck. Even then, a national championsh­ips doesn’t quite have the same prestige and sense of achievemen­t as an internatio­nal race, but at least he was off the mark.

However, the only thing that seemed to take longer to come than Almeida’s first win as a pro was the finish line atop the horribly steep summit finish of stage 2 of the Tour de Pologne in Przemysl. At about a kilometre and a half in length, it was an interminab­le ramp that kept on rising, and to Almeida, who attacked with 1,300m to go, it must have seemed like it would go on forever. The Portuguese rider looked to have attacked very early, but each time it looked as if his dwindling pack of pursuers were closing the gap, he redoubled his efforts, punching out of the saddle and sprinting for a very long time, holding a distance that expanded and contracted between virtually nothing and about 30 metres. Movistar’s Einer Rubio almost closed the gap at one point, before Almeida went away again. Diego Ulissi caught him and tried to pass twice, and then a third time on the short finishing straight and each time Almeida got his front wheel back in front. Previously the Portuguese rider always seemed to find a way to lose; this time he refused to do anything else but win. Local favourite Michał Kwiatkowsk­i, of the Ineos Grenadiers, and on-form Matej Mohoričc of Bahrain Victorious didn’t concede too much ground behind the leading pair, but the rest were a significan­t distance behind. And as Almeida took the stage he went into the race lead.

Now that João Almeida had learned to win, he carried on doing so. Two days later, on the mountainto­p finish at Bukinova Resort, he won the group sprint at the top; on his favoured territory in the stage 6 time trial, he had to give best to his team-mate Rémi

Cavagna, but second place clinched the overall title, the Portuguese rider’s third win in the space of a week. Mohoric held on for second and Kwiatkowsk­i came third.

Almeida has ridden 11 stage races since turning pro for Deceuninck in 2020. He misfired in his first, the Tour Down Under, when he came 62nd on his debut. But in every stage race since, he’s finished in the top 10, including his two cracks at the Giro d’Italia. In signing for UAE Emirates in 2022, he may look like an understudy to double Tour winner Tadej Pogacar. But his impressive consistenc­y and now his proven ability to win makes him one of the men to watch in the stage races to come. Poland 2021 was his first stage race win, but it’s doubtful it’ll be his last.

 ??  ?? João Almeida outsprints Diego Ulissi to win stage 2 at Przemysl
João Almeida outsprints Diego Ulissi to win stage 2 at Przemysl
 ??  ?? The DQS rider enjoys his second stage win of the week in the yellow jersey
The DQS rider enjoys his second stage win of the week in the yellow jersey
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