Tour of Italy: The first showdown between the general contenders

João Almeida

 BRUSSELS - Portuguese João Almeida won Tuesday’s stage and became second in the general classification. British Geraint Thomas finished a close second and retook the pink jersey. Slovene Primož Roglič finished third at 25 seconds from Almeida and Thomas and remained third in the general classification.

 After a second rest day, stage 16, from Sabbio Chiese to Monte Bodone, was the second of four 5-star stages. The long-anticipated stage had five climbs: the “Passo di Santa Barbara”, the “Passo Bordala”, climbs to Montassone and Serrada and, finally, the “Monte Bodone.” Would this stage be up to par and launch a last week full of action for the general classification?

 In sunny weather, along the picturesque Garda lake, a group of 26 riders managed to break away. Among them was -again- naturalized Irishman Ben Healy. Healy clearly has set his heart on the King of the Mountains (KOM) classification.

 At the foot of the last climb, the Monte Bodone, 12 remaining riders of the original breakaway group still had a lead of three minutes and forty seconds. Contrary to the previous stages, however, the overall contenders this time did not let a breakaway rider win the stage. First Roglič’s Jumbo-Visma team, then Almeida’s UAE team lead the peloton, which by then had shrunk to 12 riders. On the 21 km-long climb, the peloton fetched one after another breakaway rider.

 A shrewd move from UAE’s Jay Vine on the heavy climb broke the peloton in two: Almeida, Thomas, Roglič and his American team mate Sepp Kuss and Irishman Eddie Dunbar, also a general contender, lead the race. Among those who could not keep up with the pace was pink jersey Bruno Armirail.

 Almeida then attacked three times. Yet it was Roglic’s top-notch aid Kuss who, at steady pace, brought the others back twice. The third time, at four km before the finish line, only Thomas could follow Almeida. In the final straight line, Thomas and Almeida sprinted for victory. While João Almeida won his first Giro stage, Geraint Thomas retook the pink jersey from Armirail. Behind them, Roglic and Dunbar sprinted for the third spot and their position in the general classification.

 This is 24 year-old Almeida’s fourth Giro. He is leading the Youth classification. Almeida says the Giro suits him: in 2020 he finished fourth and in 2021, despite having to wait for the team’s leading man, sixth. Will this Giro be his?

The general classification (top 10) after stage 16:

1. Geraint Thomas (GBR) INEOS Grenadiers

2. João Almeida (PRT) UAE Team Emirates 0’18”

3. Primož Roglič (SVN) Team Jumbo-Visma 0’29”

4. Damiano Caruso (ITA) Bahrain – Victorious 2’50”

5. Eddie Dunbar (IRL) Team Jayco AlUla 3’03”

6. Lennard Kämna (DEU) BORA – Hansgrohe 3’20”

7. Bruno Armirail (FRA) roupama – FDJ’3:22”

8. Andreas Leknessund (NOR) Team DSM 3’30”

9. Thymen Arensman (NLD) INEOS Grenadiers 4’09”

10. Laurens De Plus (BEL) INEOS Grenadiers 4’32”