Portuguese rider survives the miserable conditions and the tough finale thanks to a strong team effort.
João Almeida became the Portuguese rider with the most Grand Tour leader’s jerseys in history, after concluding the leg-sapping stage 9 to Roccaraso just a few seconds behind the other GC favourites, and will now get to wear the coveted maglia rosa for the seventh consecutive day next week, when the race will resume from Lanciano.
“I am so happy and very grateful to the whole team, because I wouldn’t have made it without them. I am delighted at the thought that I will start the second week of this beautiful race in the overall lead, it’s something I would have never imagined when the race got underway in Palermo, last Saturday”, João said immediately after the stage.
Marred by bad weather, Sunday’s 208km-long leg was animated by a breakaway that was kept in check by Deceuninck – Quick-Step, who worked hard for Almeida since the very outset, their phenomenal effort reducing the gap and preventing any attacks on the first three classified climbs of the day. As Ruben Guerreiro (EF First) soloed to victory in Roccaraso, the overall contenders lit up the fireworks on the double-digit gradients that created some splits in an already depleted bunch, which was numbering around twenty under the flamme rouge.
Almeida lost contact with 500 meters to go, but the 22-year-old Grand Tour debutant dug deep, gritted his teeth and put in a valiant effort which helped him limit the losses and retain the pink jersey, thus rounding out his teammates’ stellar work.
“It was cold today and I struggled a bit with the low temperatures, but I kept believing in myself and gave everything, fighting also for my teammates, who worked so hard for me this week. I was prepared for all kinds of scenarios at the start of the stage, including losing the jersey, but I continued to believe and do my best, regardless of the conditions, which I think were a problem for everyone today. I am happy that I keep making my team and my country proud and I will keep giving it all until the end of the race”, said João, who holds also the white jersey, which rewards the leader of the best young rider classification.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images